Cavalier Corner

February 2021

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12 CAVALIER CORNER BY SCOTT FITZGERALD F or 18 years Virginia baseball's Step Up to the Plate event has served as the unofficial start to the Hoos' college baseball sea- son. Typically drawing over 1,000 fans to John Paul Jones Arena, the 2021 version of the program's signature fundraising event looked a little different due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Cavalier baseball staff, Virginia Ath- letics Foundation and members of the 2021 team had to pivot this January to execute the program's signature offseason event. For the first time, Step Up to the Plate went virtual with hundreds of fans joining a webinar- style Zoom call that mimicked some of the exciting programming from years past. "Our fans, supporters and donors are the lifeblood of this program," head coach Brian O'Connor said. "Of course there is nothing better than a packed Disharoon Park, but the difference with an event like this is we as coaches and the players get a chance to interact with those people that will be there with us all spring. "It's a lot of fun to feel the excitement around the upcoming season through their passion and energy." That exclusive interaction was not to be left out of this year's virtual event. Fans who attended the program's largest fundraiser got to meet the 2021 Cavaliers and partici- pate in a live question-and-answer session with the team and coaches. The event traditionally has put voices be- hind the student-athletes in the game pro- gram. Every Cavalier student-athlete and manager had their chance to introduce them- selves to the Virginia baseball fan base. First- year Channing Austin, second-year Chris Newell, third-year Mike Vasil and fourth- year Devin Ortiz each delivered messages to attendees on behalf of their classmates. In 2018, the Virginia baseball program inducted its first-ever Hall of Fame class at Step Up to the Plate. Each event since has held some sort of Hall of Fame element and 2021 was no different. The class of six — Steve Bryant (1968-70), Nathan Kirby (2013-15), Bran- den Kline (2010-12), Mike Papi (2012-14), Josh Sborz (2013-15) and Brandon Waddell (2013-15) — was officially announced by O'Connor on the virtual call and made pub- lic at the conclusion of the event. This class was particularly notable as the first two members of the 2015 national cham- pionship team — Sborz and Waddell — were enshrined. The official induction for the newly elected members will take place at a later date. But what about the autographs? A key component to the night was not forgotten. Each virtual attendee will receive an au- STEPPING STEPPING UP UP TO TO TH THE PLATE PLATE Despite Moving Online, Cavalier Supporters Still Enjoyed Baseball's Marquee Annual Event Head coach Brian O'Connor's Cavaliers were listed No. 5 in Baseball America's annual preseason top 25 — the program's highest preseason mark since 2016. PHOTO COURTESY UVA

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