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UF baseball feature

Discussion in 'Writers' Workshop' started by Xodus, Mar 4, 2008.

  1. Xodus

    Xodus Member

    Hey, I'm a long-time reader, first-time poster and I was hoping to get some feedback on a feature I wrote recently. I think it's some of my best work, but I'd like to hear some feedback on it. It's 40 inches so I'd REALLY appreciate anyone who responds.

    Opening Pitch

    By KARL HYPPOLITE , Alligator Writer

    The Kevin O'Sullivan story almost never was.

    In 1991, the first-year UF baseball coach found himself at a fork in the road.

    He could continue to pursue a career in baseball — his passion since he was 7 years old — or he could play it safe.

    O'Sullivan, who earned a bachelor's degree in education and sports medicine from Virginia, also mulled over attending medical school. (He also got a master's in exercise and wellness science at FAU in 1995.)

    In the end, he chose passion.

    "It's hard to give up," O'Sullivan said. "Everyone's playing days come to an end. But I wasn't ready to give up my days in the baseball side of things. It was a pretty easy decision and it's worked out well so far."

    Not surprising for a guy the Gators describe as a pit bull.

    The Pit Bull

    O'Sullivan chuckles every time the nickname that has followed him for nearly 20 years is mentioned.

    "I don't know about that," he said. "I think I'm just a guy who works hard. I work hard at everything I do."

    His laid-back, self-effacing demeanor reminds you more of a proud lion than a grunting, growling pit bull.

    That is, until he's in a game situations. That's when his other side comes out.

    You can see it during team scrimmages. He sits in a chair placed in front of the dugout with his arms folded as he stares intently at the play on field. He barks instructions at his players throughout the session, his energy and intensity filling McKethan Stadium. The Gators appear to be slowly taking on his personality, as if he's imparting a piece of himself into them.

    O'Sullivan does give a lot of himself. He pours himself into his team because it's the only thing he knows.

    And he expects the same in return.

    "I think the kids feed off of a coach's personality," O'Sullivan said. "And you've got to demand a lot if you're going to get a lot. If you expect things to be done a certain way, the end result is going to be that."

    O'Sullivan is expecting a lot out of these Gators, even if no one else is. After two substandard seasons, the days of championship contention are nothing more than a distant memory.

    Last week, UF was picked to finish fifth in the Southeastern Conference East in the preseason coaches' poll.

    Only six players remain that took part in the 2005 College World Series, and UF hasn't made it back to the NCAA Tournament since.

    These tidbits mean little to the Gators. O'Sullivan's confidence in his players breeds confidence within them. In his first meeting with his new team, O'Sullivan told the players he would never coach a cellar dweller.

    "Right off the bat he told us we weren't going to finish in last place," senior first baseman Brandon McArthur said. "He said they've never coached a last-place team before and he won't be coaching a last-place team as long as we put in the work."

    Putting in the work is the mantra O'Sullivan lives his life by. He readily admits that he was unable to continue his career as a player because he simply didn't have big-league talent.

    But that didn't keep him from having a successful four-year career at Virginia (he played two years at a community college and two years at Virginia), capped off by being named to the All-Atlantic Coast Conference's first team as a catcher in 1991 — ahead of Boston Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek. (Hasn't been confirmed.)

    O'Sullivan is working to instill that same work ethic in the Gators, and they've responded. UF quickly embraced O'Sullivan and the differences between him and former coach Pat McMahon.

    Though McMahon was beloved by his players, the common sentiment among them is that a change was needed, and they'll shout from the mountaintops that O'Sullivan is the right man for the job.

    "This new coaching staff focuses on being perfect on every rep," pitcher Josh Edmondson said. "Not just okay on some and good on others, perfect on every rep. Every throw has to be perfect, every bunt, every pitch."

    McArthur is so excited he wishes he could turn back time.

    "I've told so many people I wish I was a freshman again," McArthur said. "This team is going to the top. This team is going to get good. I really feel this team is going to be dominant. He's going to be our Urban Meyer who's going to make sure we're competitive every year."

    O'Sullivan's transition didn't come without at least one rocky patch. Former Gators catcher Cody Neer announced he was transferring to Nebraska in December amid speculation that he wasn't happy with the new coaching staff. While the team refuses to get intospecifics, it appears they're happier without him.

    "There were a couple guys who weren't able to hop onto it and get the gist of it," McArthur said, "and fortunately they're not here right now."


    O'Sullivan spent nine successful seasons as an assistant coach at Clemson. The Tigers compiled a 403-194 during that span and had 29 players selected in the MLB draft. But O'Sullivan wanted more. While he says he never went out and looked for jobs, he admits he was ready to listen to any offers.

    In early July, UF Athletics Director Jeremy Foley picked up the phone and asked O'Sullivan if he was interested in the Gators' suddenly vacant head coaching position.

    It was an opportunity he couldn't turn down.

    O'Sullivan was named UF's new baseball coach on June 14. When the time came for him to decide who would comprise his coaching staff only two names came to mind — Brad Weitzel and Craig Bell.

    You'd be hard pressed to find many people who know O'Sullivan better than them. Weitzel coached O'Sullivan and Bell in the American Legion baseball league in Jupiter in 1987. (Gatorzone says, "Weitzel coached current Gator assistant Craig Bell all four years of his collegiate career, in 1986-87 at Palm Beach and in 1988-89 at UNF, and coached O'Sullivan when the UF skipper was a member of the 1987 Jupiter (Fla.) American Legion team." It doesn't sound like Bell was in Jupiter.)

    Though they went their separate ways after that short stint together, the relationships they built were lasting. O'Sullivan credits Weitzel with his basic coaching philosophies.

    "He's taken things that I taught them and using them," Weitzel said. "He's taken them, used them and been successful with them. I'm very happy with that."

    Weitzel admits that working alongside O'Sullivan more than 20 years after he coached him forms an interesting dynamic.

    "I feel like his big brother," Weitzel said. "I feel like his uncle. He leans on me for a lot of stuff outside of baseball."

    Because there is so much mutual respect between the coaching staff, O'Sullivan has made an effort to have all three remain an integral part of the coaching and decision-making.

    O'Sullivan works with the pitchers, Bell spends time working with the fielders and Weitzel focuses on hitting. But all three accept suggestions and aid each other in their respective concentrations.

    O'Sullivan is clearly the leader of the group though. His colleagues saw those leadership qualities early on.

    "He's the kind of guy where you can see it right away," Bell said. "He was a good player because he always knew what the other guys were supposed to do. He was always real demanding with the pitchers. He's got leadership skills."

    Picking up the Pieces

    The shards of the Gators' broken baseball program still haven't been picked up. While everyone agrees hiring O'Sullivan is a step in the right direction, there is still a lot of work to be done.

    O'Sullivan was hired largely because of his reputation as a great pitching coach. He'll earn every penny if he's able to turn around a UF pitching staff that posted a woeful 5.27 ERA last year. (4.21 on Gatorzone)

    O'Sullivan's plan is to drastically change its approach to pitching. And if successful he'll have some baby pit bulls on his hands.

    "Our pitchers are going to be very aggressive," he said. "We want to attack hitters and make them hit balls out of the park. We're going to get after guys and we don't want to walk a lot of guys. We're not going to be afraid of contact."

    The Gators appear to have adjusted well to O'Sullivan's style. The pitchers have received rave reviews throughout preseason practices, highlighted by improved play from sophomore Kyle Mullaney and the emergence of freshman hurler Tommy Toledo.

    Few outside of Gainesville give UF much of chance, citing the loss of slugger Matt LaPorta and youth throughout the lineup.

    Don't tell Weitzel that though — he expects a swift return to national prominence.

    "I have expectations to get right in the middle of it right now," he said. "That's my expectation. My expectation is we're going to do everything we can to get a ring on our finger."

    O'Sullivan's story at UF has yet to be inked. But if his mentor's feelings are correct, it will be an epic, passionate tale.
  2. Alma

    Alma Well-Known Member

    The lede is pedestrian and vague. Why is the fork in 1991? What was "safe" if it wasn't med school? What does career mean? Playing career? Coaching career? These questions are all answered later - 20 inches later. And the concept, as presented here, isn't dynamic enough.

    Your punchline ain't the fork, his boring first quote, or the degrees he's earned (which definitely can be kept for later).

    Your punchline is "pit bull," right?

    I mean, if you asked a player or a friend to describe the guy, you're getting "pit bull," not "well, he had a fork in the road in 1991, and he got that master's from FAU in 1995."

    So how do you convey the most compelling thing about the guy in the opening sentences?

    Your real lede is the image you use at the team scrimmages. That's who this guy is.

    This is rough, but an idea of what it could read like:
    Kevin O'Sullivan sits in a chair just outside the dugout. He folds his arms and stares intently at Florida's baseball team, his team, a powerful college program that's been humbled by two poor seasons.
    The energy and intensity of his barked instructions fills McKethan Stadium. The players seem to respond, taking on O'Sullivan's personality.

    These Gators, who haven't been to the NCAA Tournament since 2005, are slowly becoming Pit Bulls.

    That's shorter overall, more revealing of O'Sullivan's relationship with the team, and it gives us an audio/visual to work with: A coach, a chair, a stadium, his team, the barked instructions.

    Granted, it's a long narrative lead - which I'm not a afraid of, but some are - and it starts with a pretty pedestrian first line, but the image - which you wrote - is compelling enough to get us to the one-sentence punch of the second graf, which has the deliberately capitalized Pit Bulls to symbolize how O'Sullivan is shaping the team.
  3. Stitch

    Stitch Active Member

    5.27 ERA - That's seems pretty good in college ball.
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