#GilcreaseNation began March 18, 2012.
After former USF third baseman Daniel Rockhold injured his wrist, Zac Gilcrease’s redshirt was pulled when he made his first start in a USF uniform as a freshman.
“Gilcrease came in with less than 24 hour’s notice,” junior teammate Buddy Putnam recalled. “He started at third that day and went 3-for-4 with a double. And so began Gilcrease Nation.”
The third baseman now has his own Twitter hashtag that fans and teammates use during and after games. The switch-hitter still maintains his humble disposition, a quality he has carried since a young age.
In fact, Gilcrease didn’t envision himself as a college ballplayer until his junior year in high school.
“I started growing into myself as a player,” Gilcrease said. “I was always the smaller kid, not really the stud of the teams, but I started getting a little bigger. (Coach Sam Marsonek) really instilled some confidence in me in high school.”
Now, fans cheer “Gilcrease nation” whenever the 6-foot-2, 175-pound junior makes gold glove plays on defense or bats in clutch situations.
“It’s kind of crazy,” Gilcrease said. “I smile pretty big. Just to think I came from a small Christian school, and now people are chanting that.”
Gilcrease has a knack for triples, currently pacing the Bulls with three. He switch hit at Cambridge Christian High School, where he batted .382 with an on-base percentage of .489 his senior year, and he also switch hit his freshman year at USF. Now, he primarily bats left-handed.
“I remember playing (baseball) in a little church league when I was younger,” Gilcrease said. “I told the kids that I could hit righty too, and nobody believed me. I turned around and ended up hitting a triple. That stands out to me because I proved to myself that I could do that too.”
Rockhold, the originator of #GilcreaseNation on Twitter, said he probably first used the nickname during practice.
“You’re with the guys every day at practice,” Rockhold said. “A lot of bonds are created there, so that’s probably one of the first places I ever used it. I think it started as more of a joke at first, and then it became an actual thing.”
Just as the hashtag has developed over the years with the surge of social media, Gilcrease has grown as a player. After the walk-on posted a .253 batting average in 21 starts his freshman year, the business major earned a scholarship.
This season, Gilcrease has started on the hot corner in 22 games and as the shortstop in two, he’s batting .226 in 93 at-bats.
After every Sunday game at the USF Baseball Stadium, players stick around to sign autographs. Gilcrease stays late to sign every ball, glove and poster with a smile on his freckled face.
“As much as his mother and I enjoy baseball, the thing we’re most proud of is just his character and his heart,” Gilcrease’s father, Doug, said.
“Seeing kids smile – that’s what this is all about,” Gilcrease said. “It’s a game, and those kids look up to you. You want to make sure that you’re encouraging.”
The next game for the Bulls (22-17) and #GilcreaseNation is at home tonight against FGCU at 7 followed by a stretch of home games until May 4.
Leading up to each game, Putnam said, Gilcrease will be the upperclassman helping the younger players pick up after practice, on the field and in the dugout, which is “rare” – especially from someone with his own hashtag.