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UF record-setter Jac Caglianone’s success with Gators has been a family affair

GAINESVILLE — The end of Jac Caglianone’s record-setting run is set to arrive like one of the towering lefty’s 98-mph fastballs — fast and a bit unpredictable.

Perhaps the best two-year stretch in program history has been a blur for the 21-year-old two-way star and Gator Nation, led by his two biggest fans.

Jeff and Johanne Caglianone have shared a front-row seat for their son’s improbable journey, rarely missing a game at home or away.

“It’s really kind of surreal for us,” Jeff told the Orlando Sentinel. “He’s had success at a lot of levels, but you never envision what he’s been able to do.”

Against all odds, Jac Caglianone wants to keep on going during the postseason, beginning Tuesday at the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala. The 9th-seeded Gators (28-26) face No. 8 Vanderbilt (35-20) with the winner advancing to the double-elimination championship bracket and the loser going home.

A season after coming one win shy against LSU of a College World Series title, Florida has struggled despite Caglianone’s efforts at the plate and on the mound.

“It’s frustrating,” his father said. “He can be torn at times — ‘I’m having success.’ But it’s not as important when we’re not winning. That sounds cliché, I get it. But he really wants the team to succeed.”

The 6-foot-5, 250-pound Caglianone has endured soul-crushing losses, outsized expectations, the omnipresent spotlight and the focus of every UF foe to produce another historic individual season.

“He walks on the field, and he’s the biggest and strongest guy on either team,” coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “You’re being singled out. You can feel like you’re on an island.

“It’s not easy.”

Yet Caglianone is batting .413, currently third in school history, with 29 home runs, 4 shy of his 2023 record 33, and has a slugging percentage of .851, well ahead of Matt LaPorta’s school record .817 in 2007. During a 9-4 loss last Thursday at Georgia, Caglianone’s hit streak ended at 30 games, tied for the school record.

If Florida, which sits No. 24 in the RPI, picks up some wins at the SECs and slips into the NCAAs, he’ll have a shot to break LaPorta’s record 74 homers set from 2004-07. After all, Caglianone has 10 multi-homer games and this season tied the NCAA record with 9 straight games with a home run.

Despite prodigious power, he has a possible future as a pitcher, earning him the nickname Jac-tani — a nod to MLB star Shohei Ohtani.

UF’s most consistent hurler on a struggling staff, Caglianone is 5-1 with a 4.35 ERA and 68 strikeouts in 62 innings. While control can be an issue — he’s allowed 44 walks — he’s developed a change-up to pair with a blistering fastball.

Whatever the future holds, Caglianone is a projected top-5 pick with options.

“He’s been asked that question I don’t know how many times,” Jeff Cagilanone said. “He can do both.”

Jac Caglianone’s passion and penchant for baseball were evident early on and nurtured by a father who played the game, including two seasons at Stetson University.

Jeff coached Jac from age 3 in T-ball at the YMCA until he reached Plant High School.

“I wanted him to hear a different voice,” Jeff said.

But until college, father and son continued to spend hours on the game’s fine points during hitting drills and strategy sessions, developing Caglianone’s high baseball IQ.

“We’ve worked situations,” Jeff said. “You have a place to be — no matter what position you play — on every pitch. He was always working on something as opposed to see how far he could hit.”

The evening routine became predictable.

Jac would come home from practice, eat dinner and head to the field with Jeff, a managing partner at a Tampa law firm.

“He was always like, ‘Dad can we go hit?’ ’’ Johanne recalled. “[Jeff] never said no, because he said, one day I won’t be able to do this.”

When Caglianone fulfilled his childhood dream and signed with UF, where Tampa Plant legend Preston Tucker starred a decade earlier, Jeff and Johanne became season-ticket holders and fixtures at the top of the lower bowl along the first-base line at UF’s Condron Family Ballpark.

When their son is pitching, those prime seats are often empty.

“It’s hard; you want him to do well,” Johanne said. “You just hold your breath.”

While Caglianone threw during the Gators’ regular-season finale, Mom nervously paced the concourse. Meanwhile, Dad was a ghost.

“I don’t know where he is,” Johanne said.

But once the game ended with a 7-5 loss to Kentucky, Caglianone rose to the occasion amid the disappointment in his final home game.

None of the fans who lined up for his autograph left disappointed. Later outside the ballpark, a girl in braces flashed a big smile wearing a No. 14 jersey with Caglianone’s John Hancock on the back.

“A lot of the stuff he’s done on the field is great,” Jeff said, his eyes welling up. “But when we see him interact with the kids, we kind of get more satisfaction from that.”

Caglianone won’t sign another autograph or perform in Gainesville for UF fans. After leaving his home field for the final time, he reflected on the best days of his young life.

“Just playing in front of your home crowd, there’s nothing like it,” he said. “It’s been nothing but great for me and my family. They love it.

“I’m going to miss it all.”

Edgar Thompson can be reached at egthompson@orlandosentinel.com