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Cannon looks to make fourth year memorable

By Andy Fledderjohann

A four-year starter in major college baseball really could be considered an oxymoron.

The simple fact is most of the top players stay three years in college, then head for the professional ranks to start their pursuit of reaching Major League Baseball.

But there always are exceptions, and Virginia is thrilled that shortstop Tyler Cannon is one of them. Despite being selected in the MLB Draft last season, Cannon passed up the chance to go pro in order to enjoy college baseball – and college life – for his senior year.

Cannon and his Cavalier teammates had a remarkable 2009 season, winning a school-record 49 games en route to the ACC championship and the program’s first-ever berth in the College World Series, where Cannon was named to the All-CWS Team.

Often an agonizing decision for juniors, Cannon found it anything but.

“I loved my first three years. I didn’t want to leave,” Cannon said. “Last fall I knew I was going to come back. I wanted to be here as long as I could. The coaches recruit really good kids – good baseball players but better people. I love being around those guys, the coaches and UVa in general. It was an easy choice to come back for my fourth year, especially after going to Omaha.”

Cannon never has been one to steal headlines. The consummate team player, he has played in 185 career games and quickly deflects any praise directed his way back toward his teammates.

“Tyler has been a very unselfish player since he arrived at UVa,” Cavaliers’ head coach Brian O’Connor said. “He has played shortstop and third base during his career here and has been our ironman in his three years and has played practically in every game. He made a decision to bypass professional baseball and stay at UVa for his fourth year, which shows his commitment to his education and the baseball program.”

Cannon was selected in the 41st round of the 2009 MLB Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates but would have been picked much higher had he not made it clear to scouts early in the year that he intended to stay for his senior year.

Interestingly, he wasn’t even paying attention to the draft – teammate Neal Davis relayed the news to him on the bus while the Cavaliers were at the College World Series. For Cannon, the son of two educators, the opportunity to earn his degree was key in his decision.

“It was important for me to get my degree from UVa,” Cannon said. “It’s one of the most prestigious schools in the country, and I knew it was going to be hard for me to come back and get my degree. Some guys don’t come back until five or 10 years later when their baseball careers are over, but I wanted to come back and finish it right now.”

In addition to earning his degree, Cannon has the opportunity to build on his best season as a Cavalier. He batted .351 in 2009 – 99 points higher than the previous year. In ACC games, he was even better, hitting a team-best .377, which ranked sixth in the ACC.

Much of the credit to the major increase goes to Cannon’s move to switch-hitting. A natural right-handed batter, Cannon tinkered with switch-hitting in high school at the request of his father, who also was his high school coach. He experimented with it during the fall practices of his sophomore and junior years before finally trying during the regular season in 2009.

The results were impressive, as Cannon’s offensive game blossomed.

“When I hit right handed, the biggest thing I had trouble with was the right-handed slider,” Cannon said. “I chased it all the time. There are so many scouting reports going around, and if you have a weakness, they will find it. But you don’t see that pitch when you’re hitting left-handed. Switch-hitting definitely helps you see the ball a lot better too. I feel like I’ve got a more natural swing from the left side as well.”

“He accomplished something that is one of the most difficult things in sports – hitting from both sides of the plate,” O’Connor said. “Having not done that his first two years, it is an amazing accomplishment in its own right but to also have his best year at the plate is a testament to his athleticism.”

Cannon’s impact has the potential the last for much longer than this year. With three heralded freshman middle infielders – Stephen Bruno, Reed Gragnani and Chris Taylor – entering the mix, Cannon also has the opportunity to be a mentor.

“I’m not really a vocal leader, but I’m more of a leader by example on the field,” Cannon said. “They’ve all got a lot of skill and potential, but I remember when I was a freshman. I looked up to Greg Miclat and David Adams, knowing them while I was in high school and what they were doing at UVa. I always listened to them and wanted to follow in their footsteps, and I’m hoping I leave a good impression on these freshmen so that they can step right in when I’m gone and keep this program going.”

As always, it is team first for Cannon. After all the work put into getting to this point, now it’s time for his senior season – time to play ball.
“Everyone wants the same thing,” Cannon said. “We all want to win and bring home an ACC championship and a national championship.”

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