By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — He played second base well enough during the 2009 regular season to earn a spot on the all-ACC first team at that position. Yet Phil Gosselin spent much of the postseason at designated hitter or in left field.
Virginia coach Brian O’Connor wanted Keith Werman in the lineup late last season. Werman played second base. So when Werman was in the game, Gosselin went elsewhere, with no complaints.
“I enjoy playing a few different positions,” said Gosselin, who was primarily a shortstop growing up in West Chester, Pa.
“If it helps the team, I’m all for it. Every position teaches you something different, and every situation teaches you something different.”
Would every player have shifted spots so easily, or so happily? Probably not.
For all of the 6-1, 190-pound Gosselin’s myriad skills as a baseball player, O’Connor said, the “biggest thing is, he’s very unselfish.”
Gosselin, who hits and throws right-handed, continues to split time between positions as a junior. When UVa’s opponent starts a right-hander on the mound, Werman, who bats lefty, begins the game at second base, and Gosselin goes to left.
If the Cavaliers (8-4 ACC, 23-6 overall) are facing a left-handed starter, Gosselin starts at second.
“Phil’s a really good athlete,” O’Connor said. “He’s able to handle that, and I think that it shows his versatility as a player.”
As a freshman, Gosselin was used at shortstop, third base and DH. He hit .305 in 2008 and then raised his average to .310 as a sophomore.
He’s piling up hits at a terrific rate this season. Among ACC batters, Gosselin is fourth with a .407 average, and he has 10 doubles, 3 home runs and 2 triples. (Two other Cavaliers — Stephen Bruno at .480 and Werman at .458 — don’t have enough plate appearances to be ranked in the ACC.)
Gosselin went 6 for 14 in Virginia’s series at N.C. State over the weekend.
“I just think the guy can flat-out hit,” O’Connor said.
Gosselin is doing so at a different spot in the order, more proof of his versatility. He batted second or third in the lineup in 2009. Now he’s the first Cavalier up in any game.
“I moved him to the leadoff spot because I felt that he’s a tough out,” O’Connor said. “I also felt like he could hit a double or hit the ball out of the ballpark at the leadoff spot.”
Gosselin belted six home runs as a sophomore. His most memorable homer — and it’s not even close — was his first-inning blast May 29 off San Diego State phenom Stephen Strasburg at Irvine, Calif.
The Wahoos won that game — their opener in the NCAA tournament — and went on to reach the College World Series for the first time in school history.
“If anybody was going to square Stephen Strasburg up, it was going to be Phil Gosselin, because Phil Gosselin has really good bat speed,” O’Connor said. “I think it sent a message in that game we weren’t going to back down from anybody, and Phil set the tone of that game with that at-bat.”
Gosselin still hears plenty about his feat. He doesn’t have a copy of it on video, however, and has seen it only one or two times.
Still, he said, “It’s pretty cool. I see it as something to look back on, something good that’s come out of my career that got me a little recognition.”
In the Baseball America poll released Monday, UVa dropped from No. 1 to No. 4, the penalty for losing two of three games at N.C. State.
Having attained such lofty rankings a season after advancing to the College World Series, the ‘Hoos know they won’t sneak up on any opponents this year.
“They know about your program, and they want to do anything they can to beat you,” Gosselin said Friday.
That, of course, is a challenge perennial powers such as Texas and LSU have faced for years, Gosselin acknowledged, and “it’s a problem that you want to have.”
Gosselin, an economic major, isn’t likely to dwell on the series loss to the Wolfpack. Neither are his teammates, most of whom share his temperament.
“That’s been the real trademark of this team for a couple years now,” O’Connor said. “We’ve got a group of guys, and Phil’s one of them, that just play the game. They don’t get too high, they don’t get too low. They’ve got a lot of self-confidence. They’re bright kids. They get it.
“They just go out and play. They play hard. They’re even-keeled, and I think that’s important in the game of baseball. Having guys like Phil Gosselin, who doesn’t panic but just goes out and plays the same way every day, is a big reason why we’ve rebounded from difficult losses last year and this year.”
UVa plays 10 of its next 11 games at Davenport Field, starting Tuesday against James Madison. The teams meet at 6 p.m.