Rounding the Bases with Chris Taylor
Chris Taylor may not have been a household name with the Virginia baseball program last year, but he will be very soon. As a freshman Taylor received just 59 at bats while learning under veteran infielders Tyler Cannon, Phil Gosselin, Steven Proscia and Keith Werman. Cannon and Gosselin are gone now, and after putting on about 10 pounds in the offseason, Taylor has stepped into the starting lineup in a big way, batting .412 in the Cavaliers’ first four games while hitting in the leadoff spot. He also has stepped up for the team, shifting to the outfield and filling an open spot in right field. He sat down this week to talk about this Virginia team, his start to the season and much more.
Talk about the camaraderie on this team.
Taylor: In the two years I’ve been here the team has always been really close. But similarly to last year, we have a lot of veteran players coming back. I think we are really close as a team, even outside of baseball we all hang out together. We are almost like a family.
This team seems to be pretty tight year in and year out. Why do you think that is?
Taylor: I think it is just natural that we are all brought to Virginia, and we might not know many people here at first. It is natural for us to hang out together because we are with each other all the time on the field an in practice.
Talk about the Iron Cavalier Challenge and what it means to this program.
Taylor: It’s pretty neat. The coaches really try to test you. They really try to break you down mentally to your limit, as far as you can go. There are times that you just want to quit, but your whole team has your back. They all support you and make sure that everyone gets through it. It is definitely the hardest thing, physically and mentally, that I’ve ever done. But at the end, once you’ve gone though something that tough and everyone finishes it, at the end of the obstacle course, it is the best feeling in the world. It’s like a weight is off your back and everyone is relieved. I think that is part of the reason we are all so close.
Are you able to utilize anything you learn about yourself during the Iron Cavalier during the tough times in the season?
Taylor: A lot of it does relate to the season. That’s when your back is going to be against the wall, and you might be struggling at the plate, and there is a time when your team needs you to step up and get the job done. Or maybe as a team you’re struggling and everyone just has to make the play or do whatever they can.
You’ve had a new challenge this season in playing the outfield. Was it a surprise to you when the coaches asked you to make the switch?
Taylor: Honestly, it didn’t surprise me. I knew coming in that we had a lot of infielders, and they tend to do that. But it was just putting the team first. I told Coach that I’d play wherever they need me, whether that is at short, third, right, wherever. I think our coaches do a good job of practicing us in all the different places, so we do feel comfortable there. It might not be as much action as shortstop, but as long as I’m in the lineup, I’m happy.
Are you comfortable hitting in the leadoff spot?
Taylor: I hit leadoff in high school, so I feel comfortable there. It’s exciting to be the first batter of the game, but you’re only the leadoff hitter for the first inning. But as the leadoff hitter you just want to find any way to get on base and have the guys behind you drive you in. My mindset doesn’t really change whether I’m hitting first or second. We always have the same approach as a team. Our approach at the plate should be the same whether you’re hitting first or last.
What did you work on over the past offseason?
Taylor: I worked hard in the weight room all offseason. I tried to put on weight; I tried to eat a lot more. When you’re out on the field all the time, you have to make sure you keep eating. I never did it by calories, but I tried to eat six meals a day. Whether that’s just bringing a granola bar and a banana to class, just something to keep my metabolism up. I eat a lot of chicken, Subway sandwiches, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and a lot of fruit.
What is the biggest difference between being a first-year and second-year player?
Taylor: I would say my first year I was trying to grasp the way this program runs and everything, learning under veteran players like Tyler Cannon, Keith Werman, Phil Gosselin, Steven Proscia. They helped me out a lot. I was definitely more nervous last year and I think the biggest difference this year has been my confidence. It’s been a lot higher and I’ve tried to take on the role as one of the veteran players.
Why is your confidence higher this season?
Taylor: I think it’s just a comfort thing. I’ve been in the program for a year. It probably has to do with getting some game time last year. I think my confidence is there probably because of the veteran players.
Talk about working with Coach McMullan.
Taylor: He’s awesome and I love him. He definitely pushes you and makes sure you are always focused at all times. Lots of times you just want to go out there and take a couple swings but he makes sure you’re in it all the time and are really focused on what you’re doing. In summer ball he was not there to be with you all the time and I didn’t hit as well as I wanted to. I feel like when you’re at the field every day and Coach Mac is really on you and showing you little things about your swing, what you’re doing in the field, or even hustling, that definitely helps.
What is the impact of Coach Mac’s emphasis on the mental game?
Taylor: When you talk about the mental game, what comes to mind for me is the mental approach to the game. He always wants you to have the right mindset whether you’re stepping up to the plate or in the field. That’s a mental strategy thing.
Is that something you already had coming in to Virginia?
Taylor: Everybody has their own approach, but mine definitely changed when I got here and that’s helped a lot.
Why did you pick UVa?
Taylor: I visited here and fell in love. I loved the coaches, the field, the atmosphere. I came on my visit, met all the players, and got a sense of camaraderie between everyone. I also wanted to play at the highest level of the ACC.
Do you have a player that you’ve looked up to and tried to emulate?
Taylor: I’m from an area that has a lot of successful baseball players (Virginia Beach) – guys like Ryan Zimmerman and David Wright. I’d say those two were guys that I looked up to.
Are there certain parts of their game that you really focus on?
Taylor: I’ve never really thought about that. I like the way Zimmerman fields; he’s a great fielder. And then David Wright – I wouldn’t say my game is very similar to his. I guess I just liked him because he was from my area.