By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — After living together for their first 18 years, the Doyle twins headed off to different colleges in the summer of 2014: Tommy to Virginia, where he joined the baseball team, and Katherine to Bucknell, where she joined the women’s lacrosse team.
The separation wasn’t easy for the siblings, who are best friends, and that wasn’t the only challenge Tommy Doyle faced in his first year at UVA. He was diagnosed with mononucleosis last January and missed the first month of the Cavaliers’ season.
“That really limited his opportunities,” head coach Brian O’Connor said.
“I felt fine, but the fact that I had mono in my system was kind of frustrating,” Doyle said last week at Davenport Field. “It was a learning experience.”
The year, of course, ended happily for Doyle and the Wahoos. Virginia capped an improbable postseason run by winning the NCAA title at the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.
“We accomplished something that’s never been done here,” said Doyle, who received his championship ring Saturday night during the team’s annual Step Up to the Plate event at John Paul Jones Arena.
A right-handed pitcher from Northern Virginia, Doyle played a supporting role in 2015. In 16 appearances — all in relief — he posted a 1-1 record and a 3.47 earned-run average in 23.1 innings. He struck out 15 and walked 18.
“We feel that he’s going to probably be one of our guys that will get the ball at some point on the weekend,” Kuhn said. “He’s going to be a very, very, very important part of our pitching staff.”
Doyle, who stands 6-6, has added about 15 pounds since the end of last season. He now weighs 230.
“He’s a big kid,” Virginia catcher Matt Thaiss said. “He’s a big presence on the mound, and it’s going to be really good to have him this year. Hopefully he can fill a big role for us.”
Doyle, a graduate of Flint Hill School in Oakton, grew up in a household that stressed education. His siblings also ended up at academically prestigious schools: brother Matt at Harvard, sisters Claire and Katherine at Bucknell. Each became a Division I athlete as well, though that was never the family’s focus.
“Growing up, none of us really knew what we were going to do sports-wise, so my mom always emphasized academics,” Doyle said. “Academics can get you anywhere. School came first, and it just so happened that athletics fell into place for all of us.”
His mother, Laura, played field hockey and lacrosse at Lafayette College. His father, George, attended Virginia Tech.
“I grew up a Hokie fan, actually, because my dad had some influence on me,” Doyle said, smiling, “but that quickly changed.”
At Flint Hill, where Doyle also played football and basketball, his baseball coach was UVA graduate Tom Verbanic.
The Cavaliers’ baseball program “has come a long way since [Verbanic] was there,” Doyle said. “He was proud of everything they’ve accomplished, and it was real special that they were looking at me as a player.”
In June 2014, the Washington Nationals drafted Doyle in the 35th round, but he chose to attend UVA. Had he not contracted mono, he undoubtedly would have pitched more as a freshman. Even so, he views the 2015 season as a positive experience.
“I think I learned a lot about myself,” Doyle said. “It helped me a lot that I pitched a decent amount in some tough situations in ACC games, so that this year I can apply those [lessons].”
Kuhn said: “I just want Tommy to get comfortable with getting outs. He’s done an unbelievable job getting some experience last year as a freshman, getting some postseason experience and College World Series experience on our team, so it’s not foreign to him.
“He’s watched so many older guys get big outs and pitch big innings, and he’s been able to be the recipient of that information and that experience kind of trickling downhill to him.”
Doyle made two appearances in the NCAA tournament. In the deciding game of the regional in Lake Elsinore, Calif., he pitched 2.2 scoreless innings in Virginia’s 14-10 win over Southern California.
Then, in Omaha, he was the final UVA pitcher in a 10-5 loss to Florida. With his family watching in the stands at TD Ameritrade Park, Doyle allowed one hit and no runs in his one inning against the Gators.
“It’s something I won’t forget,” Doyle said of his CWS appearance. “It was really surreal. Just being able to pitch there was crazy, and it definitely helped my confidence in big, huge situations.”
After the Cavaliers’ season ended, Doyle headed to New Hampshire, along with classmate Bennett Sousa, to play for the Keene Swamp Bats in the New England Collegiate Baseball League
Doyle, who turns 20 in May, returned to Charlottesville a more polished and confident pitcher, and his progress was evident when the Wahoos opened practice in September.
“I learned how to pitch under pressure, learned to command my off-speed a little better,” Doyle said, “and it definitely rolled over into the fall, which I was happy about.”
His coaches were delighted, too.
Doyle “went away and had a really nice summer,” O’Connor said, “and I just saw the development sometimes that you see out of those pitchers in the fall of their second year: the way he walks around, the way he carries himself on the baseball field, on the pitcher’s mound. He’s got a lot of confidence in himself, and he certainly has talent.”
Kuhn said: “What he’s done in the summer and fall as far as composure and pitchability, and to see his maturation and quiet confidence on the mound, is really, really impressive. I’m looking forward to him putting all of what he’s learned into practice.”
The adjustment to college baseball — and the challenge of balancing athletics and academics — proved difficult at times for Doyle as a freshman. His twin, Katherine, went through a similar experience at Bucknell.
“Now it’s my second year,” Doyle said. “I know what’s going on. I know what to do now. I don’t have to ask everyone questions, so it’s a much easier process.”
Virginia opens Feb. 19 against Kent State in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Exactly how Doyle will be used this season is still to be determined. He could be a starter, a middle reliever or, perhaps, a closer.
“We’re going to sit down as a staff here in the next week or so and kind of iron that all out,” Kuhn said Monday. “I would just say that he’s going to be a very prevalent piece of our puzzle on the weekend.
“In what capacity, I couldn’t really answer that right now. But I think he’s going to be an unbelievable piece of our pitching staff, and I am so encouraged by what he has shown so far this spring training in his ability to just throw strikes and be mature.”
With only one weekend starter back — junior Connor Jones — and sophomore Derek Casey still recovering from Tommy John surgery, “it’s all open,” Doyle said. “It’s all up for grabs. I’m just looking to participate more than last year and help our team out in any way possible.”