By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Ten minutes before the start of the Major League Baseball draft Monday night, Danny Hultzen walked from the home dugout at Davenport Field to the pitcher’s mound, on which he has become a legend at the University of Virginia.
With him were his parents, Chris Hultzen and Martha Martin. UVa coach Brian O’Connor joined the group a few moments later, happily playing the role of photographer.
“It’s something I wanted to share with my mom and dad,” Hultzen said later. “They’d never been on the field. It was just a nice memento to have of them.”
It was a special night in many ways for Hultzen, a junior from Bethesda, Md. Thirteen minutes into a draft that began at 7 o’clock, the Seattle Mariners used the No. 2 pick to select Hultzen, a 6-3, 200-pound left-hander who has twice been named ACC pitcher of the year.
“He’s a special player, arguably the greatest player to ever put on our uniform,” O’Connor said. “He’s helped make a difference in this program.”
No. 2 is the highest a UVa baseball player has been drafted. Until Monday night, it was No. 4. That’s where the Washington Nationals picked third baseman Ryan Zimmerman in 2005.
“I was completely and utterly shocked that I was picked there,” Hultzen told reporters at Davenport Field, where he watched the opening minutes of the draft in the locker room, surrounded by his teammates and coaches and a TV crew from the MLB Network.
“I had kind of an idea that I might be picked somewhere in the top area, but never would I have thought it would be No. 2. It’s an incredible, incredible feeling.”
Hultzen, who grew up rooting for the Baltimore Orioles, has never been to Seattle, “but I’ve heard it’s an awesome city,” he said. “It’s not as rainy as everyone thinks it is.”
O’Connor said he did not know which team would pick Hultzen. “I just knew whoever he went to, they were going to get a special pitcher and a special person that I think not only can impact a major-league organization on the field, but also can impact a clubhouse and an entire team. And I think that’s what they’re getting in Danny Hultzen.”
Hultzen, 21, is coming off one of the most memorable weekends of his illustrious college career. The Wahoos are seeded No. 1 overall in the NCAA tournament, and Hultzen helped them go 3-0 in the Charlottesville regional.
He earned the victory Saturday night in UVa’s 10-2 romp over St. John’s, striking out 12 in seven innings, and he was 7 for 11 with five RBI in the double-elimination regional.
After Virginia beat East Carolina 13-1 in the championship game Sunday night, Hultzen was named the regional’s most outstanding player.
A graduate of St. Albans School in Washington, D.C., Hultzen was picked by Arizona in the 10th round of the 2008 MLB draft. But he chose to attend college and had an immediate impact on the Cavaliers’ program.
In 2009, Hultzen was named ACC freshman of the year. He’s only player in school history to make the All-ACC first team three times. He ranks first in career wins (31) and career strikeouts (378) at Virginia.
“There’s always been a lot of buzz around him his entire career, and nothing’s fazed him,” O’Connor said. “He’s still just been a great teammate every day, and it’s never been about him.
“We watched the draft tonight with the team in the clubhouse, and it was very uncomfortable for him, because he doesn’t want to make it about him. It’s about his teammates, and that’s why he’s flourished in our uniform and here at the University of Virginia.”
Hultzen, often UVa’s designated hitter when he’s not pitching, is batting .336 with 34 RBI this season. On the mound, he’s 11-3 with a 1.57 earned-run average, and he has struck out 148 and walked only 17 in 103.1 innings.
“What Danny has is incredible poise,” O’Connor said. “His makeup is just off the charts. He has been consumed with what is best for the University of Virginia and helping his team win, and I think that’s a big part of what’s gotten him through this time. There’s a lot of pressure on a young man at this age going through what he’s going through, and he’s performed all year long, even lately leading up to the draft.”
Hultzen said he tried not to dwell during the day Monday on what might happen that night.
“It’s in the back of your mind, but then you realize that there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it,” he said. “I just had a normal day, hanging out with my buddies and taking it nice and easy and just waiting for 7 o’clock to come, I guess.”
Now that he’s been drafted, Hultzen said, “I’m just going to still go out there and pitch the way that I’ve been pitching all year. At least I’ll try to. But it’s nice that it’s over with. It was an incredible experience, but it’s a lift off my shoulder now that it’s all over with.”
Hultzen said he won’t begin negotiations with the Mariners until UVa’s season ends, “which hopefully is a few weeks from now.”
Virginia has advanced to an NCAA super regional for the third consecutive season. UVa (52-9) will host UC Irvine (42-16) in a best-of-three series this weekend, with the winner advancing to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.
Hultzen and the ‘Hoos made it to Omaha in 2009, and they’re determined to return this season.
“My focus is on this team and helping this team win games,” Hultzen said. “It’s always been, and that’s what it’s going to continue to be, until hopefully we’re raising that trophy over our heads.”