By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — For more than a month, Brian O’Connor has watched his players practice, and he’s learned a lot about his baseball team. Starting this week, though, UVa’s seventh-year coach gets to see those players in game situations, and that may be more enlightening.
The occasion is the seventh annual Orange and Blue World Series, to which the public is invited. The Cavaliers are coming off a season in which they won the ACC title and advanced to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., and they’re expected to be among the nation’s top teams again in 2010.
“Fall’s gone really well. It really has,” O’Connor said Monday morning. “Their intensity’s been good. That’s what you’ve got to be careful about, coming off the year we had last year, that guys don’t get complacent or anything like that, and I can assure you that this group has not.”
The intrasquad series begins Monday night, and Game 2 follows 24 hours later. Game 7 is Oct. 20. All games are scheduled to start at 6 p.m. at Davenport Field.
“You got annnouncers and fans in the stands,” O’Connor said. “You got things you haven’t had all fall that are now in play, and that makes it mean a little more.
“You always see some players in this series emerge that haven’t stepped forward yet during the fall. We’ve been practicing now for six weeks, so these young freshmen now have a lot of experiences under their belt, and although over the last few weeks they may not have played up to their capability, now you hope that the game is starting to slow down for them a little bit and they can show what they’re capable of doing.”
In last year’s World Series, for example, then-freshman Danny Hultzen “really emerged as an offensive player,” O’Connor recalled. “And Phil Gosselin had a great series.”
Gosselin, coming off an injury-marred freshman season, hit .379 for the Blue team last fall.
“He really showed that he was going to be a guy that was going to hit in the middle of our lineup and be an everyday player,” O’Connor said. “So you see things like that. Players are question marks going in, and hopefully they show their teammmates and their coaches what they’re capable of doing.”
The Cavaliers’ roster has been split into two teams, though Steven Proscia and Sean Lucas will sit out the series because of injuries. Two of O’Connor’s assistants, Karl Kuhn and Eddie Smith, will coach the Orange and Blue, respectively.
“The winner of the series obviously gets bragging rights in the locker room, so the players take it very seriously. It’s intense,” O’Connor said. “And then we have a holiday dinner at my house, before the players go home for holiday break. The winning team gets steaks, and the losing team gets hot dogs.”
Fans who drop by Davenport will see more than a team hoping to make a second straight trip to Omaha. They’ll see signs of construction.
Work on an enhancement project at Davenport began Monday morning. The project, funded entirely by private donations, will cost about $4.5 million.
When the work is done — no later than early April, if all goes as scheduled — the 3,600-seat stadium’s amenites will include a locker room for the visiting team, locker room for umpires, weight room, hall of fame room, team meeting room, training room, coaches’ meeting room, training room, storage areas for equipment, kitchen, expanded clubhouse for the team, and climate-controlled indoor hitting and pitching facility.
O’Connor returned all of his best position players from last season, and they’ve been joined by a heralded recruiting class. Questions remain, however, about the pitching staff, which lost Andrew Carraway, Robert Poutier, Matt Packer and Jeff Lorick.
Junior Robert Morey and Hultzen, a sophomore who went 9-1 last season, are expected to be weekend starters for UVa again. The Orange and Blue World Series will help O’Connor decide on the rest of his rotation.
The Game 1 starters are Hultzen, for the Blue, and junior-college transfer Cody Winiarski for the Orange.
Hultzen and Winiarski are scheduled to start two games apiece in the series, as are Morey, freshman Branden Kline, sophomore Will Roberts and junior Tyler Wilson.
“I think this is going to be as competitive a series as we’ve ever had,” O’Connor said.