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By Jeff White (
CHARLOTTESVILLE –– Home for Andrew Abbott is his family’s farm in Republican Grove, a tiny Southside Virginia community in Halifax County, which has about 35,000 residents. 
His world view changed this summer. Last month, as a pitcher on USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team, the University of Virginia junior visited such cities as Taipei, Taiwan, and Tokyo, Japan, whose populations are about 2.7 million and 9.3 million, respectively.
“Definitely a different world over there,” Abbott said recently at UVA’s Disharoon Park. “This was actually my first time leaving the U.S. I had been all across the country playing baseball, but just never went anywhere else. This was a fun trip to start with. Not many people get to do it, so I hold it close to my heart even more.”
In Taipei, he strolled through the famed Jade Market. In Tokyo, he marveled at the sights and sounds of the city. They included “bands playing in the middle of the street, which isn’t something you would see every day, especially in America,” Abbott said.
A 6-0, 175-pound left-hander, Abbott is the ninth player in UVA history to be selected to the team, joining Bill Narleski (1986), Seth Greisinger (1996), Ryan Zimmerman (2004), Sean Doolittle (2005 and ’06), Jacob Thompson (2007), Branden Kline (2011), Matt Thaiss (2015) and Jake McCarthy (2017).
This summer’s schedule included the eighth annual USA vs. Cuba International Friendship Series, in Hickory, Charlotte, Durham and Cary, N.C.; the 19th USA vs. Chinese Taipei International Friendship Series, in Taichung and Taipei, Taiwan; and the 43rd USA vs. Japan Collegiate All-Star Series, in Matsuyama, Imabari City, Iwakuni, Koriyama and Tokyo, Japan.
The U.S. also played another game in Taiwan, against Taichung. The United States won its series with Cuba and Chinese Taipei and then lost a tough series with Japan, dropping the decisive fifth and final game.
In all, Abbott made seven appearances out of the bullpen, posting a 2-1 record and a 2.25 earned-run average.
What he’ll remember most about the summer, Abbott said, was “playing for my country. It was the first time I’d ever done anything along the lines of USA Baseball or even thought about doing anything USA Baseball.”
Also, he said, “having the experience of going out of the United States was a big thing for me. It was a very, very fun trip, and I had never known what it feels like to miss the United States, because I had never left it. When you’re in Taiwan and Japan for two-and-a-half weeks, you start missing home a little bit, missing American food, because they didn’t have much of that over there. But I think just playing for my country was the biggest thing to me.”
Abbott spoke to McCarthy about what to expect on the Collegiate National Team, and UVA head coach Brian O’Connor was another resource. O’Connor was the U.S. pitching coach in 2018, when the team played series against Chinese Taipei and Japan in North Carolina and Georgia before traveling to Cuba for another series.
“I feel it’s a lifetime experience,” O’Connor said, “and there’s nothing like having those three letters on your chest. To wear that uniform, to compete against those other countries in the other dugout, it’s an incredible experience.
“There’s something special about when you’re playing Japan and they’re in the other dugout, and you’ve got that USA uniform on and you think about what you’re representing.”
Abbott played for the Orleans Firebirds in the prestigious Cape Cod Baseball League last summer, and he rejoined them this June for about two-and-a-half weeks. Then he traveled to USA Baseball’s training center in Cary, N.C., to try out for the Collegiate National Team. One of 26 players selected, Abbott meshed well with the U.S. pitching coach, Greg Moore of Saint Mary’s College in California.
Moore’s philosophy is similar to that of UVA’s pitching coach, Karl Kuhn.
“Just like [Kuhn], he knew his stuff,” Abbott said of Moore, Saint Mary’s head coach. “He was a big believer in the little things, the fundamental side of pitching. The little things matter to him, so that’s what we focused on the majority of the summer, and it was good to see that, because sometimes when the little things are wrong, that can impact your performance a lot.”
The players changed roommates periodically, and Abbott ended up staying with three teammates on the road: first Loyola Marymount’s Nick Frasso, then Oklahoma’s Cade Cavalli and, finally, Florida International’s Logan Allen.
The ACC and the SEC were well-represented on the team, and there were also players from mid-major schools. Abbott and Frasso previously had been teammates in the Cape Cod League.
“Meeting the guys and learning what their programs were about, learning who they are, was awesome,” Abbott said. “You can’t trade that for anything.”
Japan’s passion for baseball is no secret. Even so, Abbott wasn’t prepared for what awaited him at games in that country.
“I’d never seen that atmosphere,” he recalled. “They had all-dirt infields and bands playing during the entire game. They had cheerleaders on top of the dugout cheering for the teams, and when the crowd got into it, when Japan had a rally going or they were [stringing together] hits and the band was playing and the cheerleaders were doing their choreography dancing on top of the dugout, it was almost like you were at a soccer game. “
Abbott smiled. “It was a little bit different. They told us going in, before the trip even started, that we were going to see some stuff we’d never seen before. And they were right. It was eye-opening.”
The Japanese team used only two starters in the five-game series, Abbott said. One started Games 1, 3 and 5, and the other started Games 2 and 4.
“Here, if you throw five or six innings, you’re not pitching for at least three to four days,” Abbott said, “but we had five games [on consecutive] days. It’s funny when you see the guy from Game 1 roll out for Game 3. We were thinking, ‘They do a lot of stuff differently over here.’ “
At a dinner before the start of the USA-Japan series, eight players sat at Abbott’s table: four from America and four from Japan. Not all of the Japanese players spoke English well, Abbott said, but “we kind of came up with hand signals [to communicate].”
In early July 2015, not long after Virginia won the program’s first NCAA title, Abbott committed to play for the Cavaliers. He was a rising junior at Halifax County High School, which he would leave in 2017 as a two-time all-state selection in both baseball and swimming.
In baseball, one of the most formidable hitters he faced was Joe Reed, who starred at Randolph-Henry High School. Reed, now a standout wide receiver on UVA’s football team, hasn’t forgotten his battles with Abbott.
“The main thing I remember is really having to know the situation when I got inside the box,” Reed said. “He had great command, so I knew I had to be alert on where the placement might be. Whether he was trying to force a ground ball or fly out, he had consistent control.”
As a Halifax County senior, Abbott struck out 158 and walked only four batters. He posted a 9-0 record with a 0.28 ERA, and the New York Yankees picked him in the 36th round of the Major League Baseball draft that June. He never seriously considered signing.
“I knew I was going to come to school,” Abbott said, “I knew that I needed an extra three years for development.”
A biology major, Abbott has made the ACC’s academic honor roll twice, and he’s on track to graduate next May, a full year early. He’s also distinguished himself on the diamond.
In 2018, he became the first Cavalier in three years to be named a Freshman All-American. His 74 strikeouts were the third-most in the ACC by a reliever, and he had a 3.18 ERA. His ERA rose to 3.89 this past season, but Abbott struck out 59 batters in 44 innings, and his value to the program is immense.
“He’s very mature, really poised,” O’Connor said. “He’s just got a really advanced presence about himself that is certainly pretty special, and he’s very loyal.”
Of Abbott’s 48 appearances for the Wahoos, 45 have come in relief. His role for the 2020 season is yet to be determined.
“Depending on the makeup of our team, we’ll decide what’s best for him and what’s best for us, but I think he’s a candidate to do whatever’s best for the team,” O’Connor said.
Abbott agreed. “I’m here to help the team however I can. It’s in the pen another year, it’s in the pen.”
He’ll be eligible to be drafted again next June. His long-term plans?
“Hopefully baseball runs for a long time,” Abbott said. “That’s the priority plan right now. But if anything bad happens or God changes the plan, I grew up farming, so I’d want to settle down somewhere and farm.”
For now, he’s focused on helping UVA return to the NCAA tournament. After advancing to the NCAAs in each of O’Connor’s first 14 seasons as head coach, the Hoos were spectators in 2018 and ’19.
“If I get drafted and everything goes well, I want to go out with a postseason berth,” Abbott said. “You always want to go out with a bang.”