By Scott Carter
GatorZone.com Senior Writer
OMAHA, Neb. – The Gators are one of two teams that played in the final College World Series at Rosenblatt Stadium a year ago and are back for the inaugural CWS at TD Ameritrade Park.
Defending national champion South Carolina is the other. With Florida’s goal to experience what the Gamecocks did in 2010, the Gators adjusted their travel plans in 2011.
The Gators’ trip to Omaha was short and not-so-sweet a year ago as they lost to UCLA and Florida State and then headed back to Gainesville.
To help prepare for what they hope is an extended stay, the Gators arrived here a day earlier than they did a year ago, checking into the team hotel early Wednesday evening to start the get-to-know Omaha phase of the trip.
Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan wanted to erase some of the element of surprise that seemed to distract the Gators last year. This is the first time in school history the Gators have made it to the CWS in back-to-back seasons.
“There’s so much going on when you get here,’’ O’Sullivan said. “The first game last year just kind of snuck up on us.’’
The Gators settled into their new surroundings on Wednesday night and will return to the field on Thursday for practice. The Gators are scheduled to hold a closed practice at nearby Creighton University early this afternoon.
On Friday, they will practice for the first time at TD Ameritrade Park, the third team scheduled to go on the field for the open practices that fans and media can attend. The Gators will also sign autographs for 30 minutes on Friday and then participate in the CWS Opening Ceremonies later in the evening.
Florida catcher Mike Zunino is looking forward to a more focused trip than he experienced as a freshman.
“You are constantly doing stuff,’’ Zunino said. “I don’t think we were prepared mentally last year for it all and I think this year we are going to be ready to go.’’
The decision to arrive a day early was one Zunino believes can make a difference on the field come Saturday when the Gators open against Texas (7 p.m., ESPN).
“It helps out a lot,’’ he said. “As much time as you can get to settle in and get used to where you are going to be helps out a lot.’’
As for their first glance at the new ballpark, the Gators drove past it on their way to the hotel. Some of the players took a walk over after checking in.
While they have a more business-like approach than a year ago, they still plan to have fun.
“Playing in front of 25,000 fans, that’s every kid’s dream,’’ shortstop Nolan Fontana said. “We are looking forward to playing in the new park.”
Outfielder Preston Tucker played a huge role in helping the Gators get here on Sunday when he blasted a three-run homer that lifted the Gators to an 8-6 win over Mississippi State in the Gainesville Super Regional.
He is looking forward to playing in the new stadium and experiencing all that comes with a trip to the CWS. And he’d like to experience something the Gators left behind in 2010.
“Winning some ballgames,’’ Tucker said when asked what he is looking forward most to about Omaha. “I think everyone on the team is going to say that. Last year was a bit of a disappointment.’’