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By Jeff White (jwhite@virginia.edu)

CHARLOTTESVILLE –– On the list of Brian O’Connor’s concerns as head baseball coach
at the University of Virginia, pitcher Andrew Abbott’s academic standing never showed up. Abbott
graduated from Halifax County High School in 2017 with about 60 college credits from Advanced
Placement courses, and his commitment to education continued at UVA.

Abbott, a 6-0, 175-pound left-hander, graduated Saturday from the University with a bachelor’s degree
in biology.

“My conversations with him about academics were always like, ‘Hey, you doing all right?’ ” O’Connor
recalled Tuesday, “and he’d say, ‘Yeah, Coach, I’m fine. I got everything under control.’ There was
never one point in three years that I had to ask him, ‘Why didn’t you make it to study hall’ or ‘Why
didn’t you do this?’

“The personal accountability that this guy has is at an elite level. It speaks to who he is. It
speaks to his family. There’s a high value of education in their home. He was very, very focused and
knew what he wanted to do.”

Abbott had a lab last fall that met on Monday and Wednesday afternoons, “smack dab in the middle of
practice,” he said. That wasn’t ideal, but “Oak was behind me 100 percent,” Abbott said.

O’Connor said: “I had complete confidence in Andrew. He’s very driven, and I knew that. He’s so
driven that he’s going to get his work in, even if that means he comes in early in the morning and
lifts. Whatever he needs to do to be successful, he’s going to do it.”

Andrew Abbott

As a Halifax County senior, Abbott recorded 158 strikeouts and only four walks, and the New York Yankees picked him in the 36th round of that year’s Major League Baseball draft. He never wavered in his commitment to UVA.

“I knew I was going to come to school,” Abbott said last summer. “I knew that I needed an extra three years for development.”

His plan all along, Abbott said this week, was to enroll at UVA, “graduate in three and then hopefully get drafted in three as well.”

O’Connor said: “He knew what his plan
was, he executed it, and here he is walking out of UVA after three years with a diploma, and I fully
anticipate him going into the first five rounds of this draft.”

The MLB draft usually consists of 40 rounds, but to help teams save money as they deal with the
COVID-19 pandemic, it’s been cut to five rounds this year. The draft is set for June 10 and 11.
(Starting at 7 p.m., the first 37 picks will be announced June 10. The remaining 123 selections will
be announced June 11, starting at 5 p.m.)

“That’s been my one true dream since T-ball, getting drafted and then working my way up to the pros,”
Abbott said. “To be recognized in the first five rounds would be in milestone in itself. But if
somehow it doesn’t work out, then I know that I always have UVA to go back to, and an extra year of
eligibility, thankfully.”

On March 11, Virginia improved its record to 14-4 with a 4-3 victory over UMass Lowell at Disharoon
Park. That turned out to be the Wahoos’ season finale. The team was on the road the next day when
O’Connor learned from athletics director Carla Williams that UVA’s series at Pitt had been
canceled.

By the time the Hoos made it back to Charlottesville, college sports had effectively been shut down
for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year.

“I can remember shedding a few tears, probably for a week, honestly, after we got that call,” Abbott
said. “It definitely hit me like a tidal wave. It didn’t just hit me. It hit the whole team.”

O’Connor said: “There’s a lot of disappointments that come out of COVID and what has happened. You’ve
got a guy like Andrew that worked so hard for this year. He’s been so unselfish in his career. Any
time I ever talked to him about what his role was going to be on the team, his answer was the same
every time: ‘Coach, I’ll do what you think is best to help us win. I don’t need to start.’ ”

Of Abbott’s 57 college appearances, 54 have come out of the bullpen. In 2018, he became the first UVA player in three years to be named a Freshman All-American. As a sophomore, he struck out 59 batters in 44 innings. 

Last summer, Abbott became the ninth player in UVA history to be selected for USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team, joining Bill Narleski, Seth Greisinger, Ryan Zimmerman, Sean Doolittle, Jacob Thompson, Branden Kline, Matt Thaiss and Jake McCarthy. Abbott played with Team USA in North Carolina, Taiwan, and Japan.

In nine appearances for Virginia this season, Abbott posted a 3-0 record, with a 1.35 earned-run average, and struck out 28 in 13.1 innings.

Andrew Abbott

“He’s on the short list of one of the more talented pitching arms that we’ve had in our program,”
O’Connor said. “I think his stuff this year was the best that it’s been in our uniform. He was
stronger, and he was throwing harder more consistently. His stuff was really at an elite level, and
I was excited to see that play out, but unfortunately [the season ended prematurely].

“He’ll have bigger baseball days ahead of him, fortunately. It wouldn’t surprise me if, in a very,
very short time, Andrew Abbott is pitching in the major leagues, depending on what role they want
him to pitch in. If somebody says, ‘Hey, we need somebody to help our big-league staff get guys out
in the seventh or eighth inning,’ I think he could be there in a relatively short period of time. If
somebody wants him to start, it’s obviously going to take longer, because it takes longer for those
guys to get to the big leagues.”

Of Abbott’s attributes, among the most significant is his self-belief. “And it’s not that he’s
cocky,” O’Connor said. “He’s very, very confident in his ability and what he can do on the mound. I
think that’s what separates players. There’s a lot of talented players out there, but deep down they
might have self-doubt. He has no doubt. In order to be at the elite level in this game, you can’t
have doubt, so I’m encouraged about what he can do.”

To know he may have pitched for the last time as a Cavalier is tough, Abbott said, “but at the end of
the day I think I did my part. If I don’t come back, then I definitely did my part. But if I do come
back, because the draft doesn’t work out or something like that, I know Coach O’Connor and all of
them will welcome me back with open arms. It’s like a win-win right now, the situation I’m in.”

Andrew Abbott

Abbott has been back in his hometown of Republican Grove, on his family’s farm, for about six weeks.
He watched part of the virtual graduation ceremony Saturday, then headed out to play a round of
golf.

To have been able to walk the Lawn “would have been an awesome experience,” Abbott said, “but you
can’t really control what’s going on right now.”

He has a net in his backyard that he throws into three or four days a week, and he has access to a
weight room in Halifax County. “So I’m pretty fortunate with the stuff that I have here, at least,”
Abbott said. “I’m just very fortunate in general.”

In 17 seasons under O’Connor, Virginia is 714-292-2, with four College World Series appearances and
one NCAA title. The Hoos reached the NCAA tournament in each of his first 14 seasons before missing
it in 2018 and ’19.

“I think for sure we would have been an NCAA team this year,” Abbott said, “the way we had jelled
together and were playing.”

If he’s drafted next month, Abbott will move on without having known the thrill of pitching in an
NCAA tournament game, one of his goals when he arrived in Charlottesville three years. Even so,
he’ll treasure his UVA experience.

“Looking back at it, I wouldn’t trade it for the world, no matter if we made it to the postseason or
we didn’t make it to postseason, because of the things that I’ve learned,” Abbott said. “I’ve grown
as a person and a baseball player, and that can’t be taken away.”

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