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Former Gators star Wyatt Langford makes meteoric rise to major leagues

ST. PETERSBURG — The 2020 census listed the population of Trenton — a north Florida hamlet bereft of gastro pubs or gridlock — at just a tick over 2,000.

“We’ve got a McDonald’s,” lifelong resident Wyatt Langford said. “One red light. ... It’s awesome, I love it.”

Seemingly 70% of the citizenry traveled 2½ hours south Monday to Tropicana Field, to observe its new favorite son in his surreal new gig as a Texas Ranger. Naturally, Langford’s mom was there, as were his in-laws, who knew him as a preschooler. Current and former members of his travel-ball team made the trip. So did the mother of his new bride’s maid of honor.

“There are so many people now that are becoming baseball fans at home that were never baseball fans before,” Todd Bryant said of his son-in-law, the wunderkind of the reigning World Series champions. “But because they have a connection now with Wyatt and Wyatt’s family and us, it’s just great to see.”

Here in the heart of the Rangers’ batting order, OPS and Opie Taylor have converged. A 22-year-old newlywed who was navigating centerfield for the Gators barely nine months ago, Langford earned a roster spot — and starting job — with Texas after only 44 minor-league games.

Since the draft began in 1965, the only position players on an opening-day roster with fewer games played in the minors/majors than Langford were Pete Incaviglia (zero games) with the Rangers in 1986 and John Olerud (six) with the Blue Jays in 1990, according to mlb.com.

He had another hit in Monday night’s 9-3 annihilation of the Rays, and is 5-of-17 (.294) with three RBIs in four big-league contests (two as a DH, two as a leftfielder).

“He just gets it,” Rangers manager Bruce Bochy said before Monday’s game. “And he’s so humble and confident, so everything we’ve thrown at him from Day 1 in spring training through that first series (against the Cubs), I just love the way he’s handled everything.”

If Bochy were trying to flesh out a new folk hero for the Rangers demographic, he couldn’t have found anyone less polarizing.

A three-time member of the SEC Academic Honor Roll, Langford ultimately married a teammate from his T-ball team. He and the former Hallie Bryant wed at the same special-events venue (on a sprawling Trenton cattle farm) where the two attended their eighth-grade prom together. Growing up, their hobbies — in no particular order — were sports, hunting and fishing.

Langford estimates he has killed 30 or 40 deer in his lifetime, but acknowledges Hallie — a redshirt junior softball player at Mercer — might have killed more.

“The thing that always impressed us was, he always came in, he was always a gentleman,” Todd Bryant said. “He’d come in the house, hug my wife, he’d come shake my hand. He’d bring (Hallie) home, same thing.

“His parents have done a great job. It shows.”

Destiny led him 30 minutes east to Gainesville, where Langford etched his name in Florida baseball lore. He set UF’s career slugging percentage record (.746), shattering the old mark (.714) established a quarter-century before by Brad Wilkerson.

One of only three Gators to record consecutive 20-home run seasons, he finished in the program’s career top 10 in fielding percentage (.996 tied for second), batting average (.363, fifth), home runs (47, tied for sixth) and on-base percentage (.471, seventh).

The Rangers drafted him with the fourth overall selection last July, then watched him skyrocket through their farm system. Langford logged three games in rookie league, 24 with the Rangers’ high Single-A affiliate, 12 in Double A and five in Triple A. In that dizzying stretch, he hit .360 with 10 home runs and 30 RBIs, recording a 1.157 OPS.

In his Triple-A debut with Round Rock (Texas), he collected four hits. This past spring, he essentially forced the Rangers to find a roster spot for him, compiling a 1.161 OPS in 63 plate appearances.

“It’s super cool and I’m super thankful to be where I’m at,” Langford said before Monday’s game.

Rangers hitting coach Tim Hyers told The Athletic that Langford’s pitch-recognition skills are near the level of seven-time All-Star and 2018 American League MVP Mookie Betts, whom Hyers coached in Boston.

“He doesn’t chase a lot,” Hyers said. “He gets a real good swing off on pitches in the zone. There are some flashes of slowing the game down and seeing the baseball in a real unique, high-level class.”

Yet as sure as humidity in Arlington looms, so do periodic swoons and slumps. Some teammates — 39-year-old Max Scherzer among them — may have ear wax older than Langford, who isn’t even four years removed from his high school graduation.

But the Rangers love his composure and professionalism to this point. Some folksy charm doesn’t hurt with the fan base either.

“He’s a true professional,” Todd Bryant said. “When the game is over, he ... doesn’t bring it up. We don’t talk about baseball; we talk about fishing, hunting, whatever. His demeanor’s not too high, not too low. But you can’t dream this up.”

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls

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