A piece of cell-phone footage is playing a major role for Florida’s No. 1-ranked baseball team in 2018.
The Gators open a three-game series at Tennessee on Friday night. A year ago, and about 225 miles away from Linsdey Nelson Stadium on UT’s campus, Florida assistant coach Craig Bell captured the slice of video that has helped add pop to a UF offense that took a backseat to the pitching staff during the Gators’ run to the program’s first national title last season.
While the Gators were in Nashville for a three-game series at Vanderbilt last April, Bell took a 45-minute drive to Columbia State Community College to scout Chargers outfielder Wil Dalton.
A 29th-round pick by Baltimore in the 2016 MLB amateur draft, the 6-foot, 190-pound Dalton was a lightly recruited player coming out of Summit High School in Spring Hill, Tenn.
“To be honest, I grew up a Tennessee fan my whole life,” Dalton said. “My whole family bleeds orange. It would have been a consideration. Then again, not many schools wanted to consider me in the first place.”
The Vols, Mississippi State and Kentucky were among the Southeastern Conference schools to show casual interest, but without an offer to extend his career at a Division I school, Dalton packed his bags and headed to San Jacinto (Texas) College.
He soon packed again, seeking a better fit. By the time spring rolled around, Dalton was back home and enrolled at Columbia State, a short drive from where he grew up.
Columbia State coach Mike Corn, aware of Dalton’s ambitions and his ability as an all-state player in high school, made a deal with his newcomer.
“When he came in here, he and I just made the agreement that if it was an SEC school and he was going to be able to play at that elite level, I would support him 100 percent in moving on after Year 1,” Corn said. “He was a guy that was very, very projectable.”
That’s where Bell entered the story.
After watching the Chargers play and keeping a close eye on Dalton with his smartphone video camera, when Bell returned to the team’s hotel in Nashville, he showed Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan the video.
O’Sullivan recalls the conversation going like this:
“What do you want to do,” he asked Bell.
“We need to sign him,” Bell replied.
“We don’t usually go out of state very much for outfielders, but Craig felt like this guy was going to be a difference maker,” O’Sullivan said. “He was right.”