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April 1, 2013

Matt Nelson: Take me out to the ballgame

by mpn3q

During my 6 years at this university as a student-athlete I have witnessed some incredible things. I have been here to see so many gifted athletes from Somdev Devvarman, Chris Long, & Becky Sauerbrunn to Joe Harris, Lauren Perdue, Danny Hultzen’s of the world, calling many professional and Olympic athletes my friends and training partners. All the while being able to share in the joy and experiences of the numerous ACC and NCAA title performances that our community has brought back to Charlottesville.

However, I think the most incredible accomplishment I have witnessed over the last 6 years is the job of head baseball coach Brian O’Connor. This is a man who seemingly single-handedly brought back to life UVA baseball and made them relevant again.  I myself as a captain of the wrestling team am proud of our own progress. Before I arrived on grounds UVA wrestling had never before been ranked in the top 25 nationally, we have not been outside since my tenor. However, as proud as I am this pale’s in comparison to what Coach O’Connor’s boys have done.

I went to a game this past weekend, my first is years and it is easy to see why UVA has become a hotbed for young baseball prospects to cut their teeth. Here were a few of my observations of why:

First, was the Davenport Field itself, undoubtedly one of the finest college ball parks in the country. There was not a bad seat in the house, even sitting in one of the last rows I felt close to the action and players that you don’t get in a professional MLB setting.

Second was the people working there and the fan surrounding them. The people working the game seemed genuinely authentic in helping you and excited to be there, as if they were not working they would still be there watching. The spectators themselves were very unique as well. Very passionate people, not just interested in the score, it was more then just a game to them it was about the people playing it. Many of them have never met these kids who were pouring their hearts out on the field but develop a bond with them, cheering for them, telling stories to their kids about them, coming up with their own nicknames for them, and sharing in their glory/defeats.

It was truly a special day to see UVA pick up another win and another series as they are riding out one of the hottest streaks in the country but there is more to building a program than wins and loses and Coach O’Connor knows that. There were frequent free giveaways, there was inning by inning twitter updates to keep fans engaged, there was constant information on the players (averages, homeruns, hometowns) and periodic historic UVA baseball trivia all geared at building the fan base and interacting with the fams on every level. It is often times the small things that make the different in an outcome of a baseball game and likewise with the fan experience, Coach O’Connor and those at UVA baseball know this and go out of their way to be the best, just like they do on the baseball diamond. 

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