Returning home after a rough game when he was about 10 years old, Wyatt Langford went missing.
Wyatt had struck out a few times in the game and his competitive nature took over once he had got home. He went to work on his swing. His dad, Michael, wondered to where his son had wandered off.
So, he went looking for him.
“We live on a lot of property, and I went hunting him, trying to find where he was at and he’s out in the barn on his hit-away just hitting. Focused and just hitting away,” the father recalled.
Major League Baseball’s annual player draft is set for July 9 to 11, and prospect rankings will start to be released more frequently. Langford, now 21, is ranked as the third overall prospect in the entire class according to MLB’s most recent prospect rankings. If taken third, this would tie him with Mike Zunino as the highest Gator picked in the MLB draft. Zunino was also taken third overall in 2012.
But as the Gators’ regular season winds down and the SEC Tournament beginning a week from Tuesday, Langford says he’s hardly focused on his professional future.
“I don’t really try and look at that. I just go out and play my game every day and enjoy my time here,” Wyatt said.
Presuming he’s drafted anywhere across those three days in July, he would become the second player from Trenton to earn that honor. The only other professional player from Trenton was Marty Malloy, taken in the 48th round in 1990 by the California Angels.
But they share an even tighter past from Langford’s time in Trenton. Malloy said he was a part of the Trenton high school program and around Langford a lot. He would throw to him during batting practices and hit him ground balls to field.
Malloy noticed something in those batting practice sessions that he sees now as a head coach of a Minor League Baseball team, the Clearwater Threshers.
“I remember throwing BP to him when he was younger and it was a different sound off the bat,” Malloy said. “I see that every day in the (Single-A) ball as a manager. You know when there’s a different sound, you can hear that sound and he had that.”
But to earn the loud crack from the bat? Malloy said he saw him work for it.
“The biggest thing for me would be for people to understand all the work that this kid has put in and he’s earned everything he’s gotten up to this point and moving forward,” Malloy said.
A local talent, Langford grew up on the outskirts of Trenton, a city of 2,000 people in Gilchrist County that’s roughly 30 miles west of Gainesville.
Wyatt earned the nickname “Evel Knievel” for being a daredevil when he was younger, said his mother, Maria. She described a time when he played through an injury to the point where it had already healed before the doctors found it.
“He was 10 years old. He was playing basketball and went after a loose ball and fractured his right wrist. We took him to the emergency room, and they found that he had a healing fracture on his left wrist. He never complained about it, and it was like three weeks old,” his mother said.
Langford was always a fan of the Gators growing up. The team played close to his home, and he regularly attended UF sporting events. When the school made him a scholarship offer, he committed instantly.
“My first and only offer was from Florida. It was my sophomore year. I committed right away,” Langford said. “My whole goal was to just play baseball at the University of Florida. So, it was a dream come true.”
Shortly after getting the offer, he called his mom to talk everything over.
“He called to ask me if I thought it was a good idea,” she said. “My heart was full because his dream was going to come true.”
His head coach at Trenton High School at the time, Scott Hall, was not surprised he got an offer from a top college program. Hall said he knew Langford as teenager was a rare talent. His poise extended off the diamond, where Hall saw an intelligent kid who showed the utmost respect to his peers.
By committing and signing with the Gators, Langford made a historic achievement for Trenton High School. He became the first Trenton baseball player to receive an offer and play for the Gators.
“It means a lot to me, and it is probably one of my favorite things about playing here,” the outfielder said. “Everyone being able to come and watch me play and representing the community.”
When arriving at the University of Florida, Langford was not a traditional outfielder, having played almost every position in high school but working primarily as a catcher.
Both his dad and high school coach said he was a plug-and-play guy. Anywhere he was needed, he played. This made transitioning into the starting left fielder for the Gators a little easier for him than it would be for others.
Still, before he became the starter, he would be tested. Having been the alpha at Trenton — the top guy — he was used to playing every game.
In his Trenton career, Langford had a batting average of .394 with 114 runs batted in and 13 home runs in 402 plate appearances. Those numbers stand out particularly because of the COVID-19 pandemic shutting down his 2020 senior season after eight games.
And hitting fastballs came easy to him, but a bigger challenge appeared during his freshman year at Florida. Playing time. He rarely played, only having four total at-bats in four games.
Riding the bench did not deter him. In fact, he said it might have benefited him.
“It was definitely tough, but I think in the long run it definitely made me better,” he reflects now. “It just made me work harder.”
Heading into his sophomore season at Florida, he and his teammate Colby Halter decided they would change their diet and habits. The pair tracked their calories and hit the gym harder in the fall, consuming mostly chicken, rice and vegetables for four straight months.
Wyatt said his main goal heading into that fall was to make it difficult for his head coach to leave him on the bench.
He did just that.
Langford earned a start in the first game of his sophomore season in 2022 and never looked back. He had one of the best seasons by a Gator slugger – ever — tying the program’s single-season home run record of 26 held by Matt LaPorta, whom the Milwaukee Brewers drafted seventh overall in 2007. He also kept up a .355 batting average and drove in 63 runs last year.
“It’s definitely the best complete college season I’ve seen by anyone ever firsthand,” said Halter, an infielder on the team.
Coming into the 2023 season, Langford has emerged as one of the veteran figures and leaders of the Gator roster.
“He’s definitely a leader by example and a big leader of the team,” Halter said.
Although he can be a leader vocally, he leads more by example. His work ethic and determination have continued from high school onward.
“I mean, just always to play the game as hard as I could. It’s just kind of how I was raised,” he said.
Now, a steady performance from the entire team that over the weekend reached 40 wins this season has the Gators primed to make it back to the College World Series for the first time since 2018.
Wyatt has carried last year’s performance into the new year, helping boost the Gators up to the country’s seventh-ranked program. The home run numbers may have dropped off compared to last season, but the batting average has increased to an impressive .400.
Some players will let impressive stats like that and recognition get to them. They begin to show some added flair and trash-talking that helps get fans off their couches or out of their seats.
Instead, Langford tries to treat baseball as it has treated him.
“I try not to ever disrespect my opponents,” he said. “I’ve had so many opportunities because of baseball.”
Not to mention, his dad had zero tolerance for any theatrics from his son on the field.
“He’s not a showboat. I’d have never tolerated any less,” the father said.
When he finishes his Gator career, Langford will have already lived out a dream. He will have put on the Gators uniform and played for his childhood school on one of the biggest stages.
Wherever he goes next, he knows he’ll miss the ability to play 30 miles from his hometown, with “all the people that I’m close to coming to watch me play.”