Jan. 30, 2010
CHARLOTTESVILLE — The temperature Friday afternoon was barely above freezing at Davenport Field, and several UVa players wore knit ski hats over their caps.
“Hey, it’s baseball weather in Charlottesville,” seventh-year coach Brian O’Connor said with a smile.
Virginia, which made its first appearance at the College World Series last year, officially opened practice for the coming season Friday. Expectations could not be much higher.
UVa, which returns all of its starting position players, has been picked to win the ACC. The Wahoos are ranked No. 2 nationally in Baseball America’s preseason poll.
“I don’t think it’s a hindrance at all,” said O’Connor, whose record at Virginia is 265-104-1, with six trips to the NCAA tournament.
“I think it’s a great honor that people out there feel that way about our program. And I’ve never been one to say that you should shy away from it. I’ve talked to my team about this all the time, that they need to wrap their arms around it and welcome it. I think you make a big mistake if you try to push it away.
“It’s nice [when the polls] come out, but once they’re out, it’s over, and you go to work and do what it took for you to get there.”
Junior Dan Grovatt, an all-ACC outfielder in 2009, agreed.
“We feel honored and privileged to be a part of that, and that people thought of us that highly,” Grovatt said. “But when it comes to our performance and how it’s going to affect the way we play, we’re going to prepare the exact same way we did last year. Everything’s going to be exactly the same.”
UVa opened practice with nearly a full complement of players. The exceptions: sophomore infielder Jared King and sophomore pitcher Scott Silverstein, who will take medical redshirts in 2010. Each is out after having season-ending shoulder surgery.
For Silverstein, a 6-6, 235-pound left-hander, the operation was the second on his shoulder. O’Connor said he’s hopeful Silverstein will recover from the injury.
“He’s very determined to do it,” O’Connor said. “He’s a big kid, with a big frame. I gotta believe that he’s going to be able to come back from this, but you just never know. This kid had two major surgeries. I don’t know that there’s been somebody that we have recruited, a pitcher out of high school, that was more talented than this kid. But unfortunately his senior year, he blew his shoulder out and just hasn’t been able to come back yet.”
As for Friday’s chill, O’Connor reminded a crowd of reporters that he was an assistant at Notre Dame before coming to UVa.
“The weather can get frustrating at times,” he said. “But you know what? I coached at a place for nine years where we never got outside in the preseason. We’d fly to Texas and play the University of Texas on opening day having never thrown a ball or hit a ball or fielded a ball outside. I don’t think it’s that big of a deal. They’ll be prepared. We’ll get them out here. As long as there’s not snow on the ground, we’ll be on this field.”
Grovatt said: “It’s definitely not as fun to play baseball in the cold, but it is what it is. It’s going to be cold in February when we start playing. We’ve got to get used to it, and it’s not going to be any different when we start playing.”