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Chris Graham: Another disappointment for UVA baseball fans?

college world seriesUVA baseball is the Atlanta Braves of the 1990s and early 2000s. Remember those Braves teams? Always in contention for a World Series, division champs every year from 1991-2005, but only taking one world championship, in 1995.

Every year it was something new. Classic Game 7 loss in 1991, a better Toronto Blue Jays team in 1992. The Damn Yankees. The Florida Marlins, who won two World Series as a wild card (1997 and 2003) while in the middle of that period blowing up their roster and rebuilding and doing it all over again.

Those Atlanta teams had two pitchers who will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame this year (Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine), a third who will be (John Smoltz), a position player who is also destined for Cooperstown (Chipper Jones), and a cast of top stars who aren’t Hall-worthy, but kept the team at the top of the baseball world for a decade and a half.

But just one world title.

Actually, for UVA baseball to be the Atlanta Braves of college baseball, they still have to win that one national title. As good as the ‘Hoos have been, playing this weekend in their fifth Super Regional in six years, the program has been to just two College World Series, in 2009 and 2011, finishing out of the money both of those years.

And after dropping Game 1 of its Super Regional series on Saturday to Maryland, the Cavs are on the brink of another failed run in 2014, a year that saw them ranked #1 in the preseason polls, stay there most of the season, but could very well once again fall short of the final big goal.

The way the Game 1 loss went down was vintage Atlanta Braves, who had the dominant pitching staff of its era, but never could get the consistent big-game efforts out of its future Hall of Famers. For Virginia on Saturday, it was the shortest outing of the season for ace Nathan Kirby, who had lost just once in 2014, on March 22 at Miami, two and a half months ago, but gave up five runs on seven hits in four and two-thirds innings against a light-hitting Maryland team that is looking a bit like those Florida Marlins.

In its first appearance in the Super Regionals, against all the odds, Maryland is in the driver’s seat after knocking Kirby around like a rag doll. Virginia, like those Braves teams when Maddux would lose a game in a postseason series, still has its versions of Glavine and Smoltz ready for Games 2 and 3 in the form of Brandon Waddell and Artie Lewicki, but all the pressure is on UVA, not only to even the series on Sunday to get to a deciding Game 3 to be able to finish things out from there, but there is the weight of expectations.

Maryland, like those old Marlins teams, had no expectations this season. As of a couple of weeks ago, it wasn’t even a fair bet to pencil the Terps into the 2014 NCAA Tournament. Barely more than a week ago, Maryland trailed ODU 3-1 in the ninth inning of its opening NCAA game, and won with a three-run ninth-inning rally before sweeping two from SEC giant South Carolina to even get to the Super Regional round.

They’re playing with house money; Virginia is the house. Another loss in the Super Regional round would make UVA just 1-3 at home in Super Regionals in the past six years. At some point, and it might be this year, the faithful are going to start to realize that the success that they see from their ‘Hoos in February, March, April and May means little or nothing, because June is the month that Virginia baseball, like those Atlanta Braves teams every October, choke, and choke big time.

Best-of-three series require one team to get two wins to advance, and Maryland has one win, meaning the series is still on, and really, with UVA playing at home, in front of those faithful, with Waddell and Lewicki in tow, the ‘Hoos still have to be the favorites.

But they’ve been in this situation before. Last year, Virginia faced a heavy underdog Mississippi State team that won Game 1 in Charlottesville by bashing Waddell, then the #1 starter, then repeated the feat in a Game 2 that completed an improbable sweep.

So there’s Mississippi State, there’s Oklahoma, back in 2010, now maybe Maryland.

What we have to look forward after this is football season. Sigh.

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  • Old-Timer

    Are you tired of drinking vinegar-and-water yet, doucheboy? Wrote this maybe a little early.

    • Ah, yes, with 20/20 hindsight, we’re all experts, aren’t we?

      • Old-Timer

        You’re not even an expert WITH hindsight. If you’re proud of that Friday column, you’re not a fan; you’re just a sack of snark in vaguely human form. UVA sports are well-rid of you.

        • UVA sports, and any other fan base, would be better off to be rid of the likes of people who hide behind fake names to throw insults at people with whom they disagree.

          I pity the likes of Old-Timer whose lives are apparently so tied to the doings of their favorite teams that they can’t even bear the thought that there might be a reason to ask a question about how their favorite teams are doing.

          Reality check: they’re games. And because somebody disagrees with your interpretation of how they’re going doesn’t give you the right to hurl invectives. Basically, grow up.

          • Old-Timer

            There’s really nothing lovelier than a writer, who puts his work out there (to your credit), attacking those who find his work lacking by citing the fact that the internet (and the commenting software that YOUR SITE allows) doesn’t require that you show ID. This is my DISCUS name. I guess I could have called myself, “J. Preston Wilcox” or “Holden McGroin,” but I didn’t. That column was silly. Do better. In fact, if you reacted that poorly and emotionally to a Game 1 loss in a two-out-of-three series, perhaps you should grow up, to coin a phrase.

          • Who called who “doucheboy”? That’s an attack.

            The DISQUS system also allows you to use your Facebook login as your profile. As I do. You’re not stuck with your madeup name. I’m not either, really. I could flood this board with a ton of supportive comments under madeup names to make it look like there’s a groundswell in favor of my position. Which I didn’t.

            it doesn’t bother me that a grand total of 15 different login names have taken up issue and called me doucheboy and other childish names. That’s not exactly a groundswell of negativity in my direction, either, considering …

          • Old-Timer

            Don’t injure yourself patting yourself on the back for not sock-puppeting. Plenty of sites now require a FB log-in. Your site does not. Don’t like it? Change it.

            And, having re-read your original article, I still think it’s pretty douchey.

            Don’t think it’s a groundswell of negativity? I see all your friends posted in your support.

          • Unlike some others, my psyche isn’t so fragile as to require that I go around name-calling people who disagree with me about a sports team and then wait for the cavalry to come in behind me to tell me that I did a great job.

            More than 2,000 reads on a three-day-old column. Around 10 usernames on The Sabre and four here on AFP raising different levels of criticism of the three-day-old column.

            Yes, folks, we’ve got ourselves a Cavalanche.

          • Old-Timer

            If you wait for people to tell you you’re doing a great job, you might want to bring your lunch

          • Maybe you can bring it for me. I’d love the chance to meet one day.

          • One other point: this site’s terms of service would have had your first comment deleted and your IP address banned.

            (As it would most days on The Sabre, though today it seems that the BoardHost has gone a little lax, though maybe I’m oversensitive in thinking that “hack” and the reference to Mr. Haney are meant as insults.)

            Didn’t ban you, didn’t delete. You’re free to comment, you’re free to insult me with silly names. I wish folks who disagree could state their disagreement without having to be childish about it, but that’s life in our digital age.

          • Old-Timer

            Once again, as you patted yourself on the back for non-sock-puppetry, you do it again for not banning me. Apparently, your standards for UVA baseball are higher than your standards for yourself. Your column remains silly.

          • Your efforts at name-calling, sillier.

          • Old-Timer

            Red Smith weeps in the afterlife.

          • Red, Ring, Grantland, H.L. and the rest didn’t have to deal with idiots on message boards who think themselves their betters. I envy them.

          • Old-Timer

            Lawks-a-mussy, “idiots”? I am chagrined. Terms of service, indeed . . . On to Omaha!

          • Everybody has a breaking point … I should ban myself for the rest of the day in punishment. (That way I can get some work done.)

            On to Omaha, indeed. We both want the same thing there.

    • One other thing here: “doucheboy”? On what wavelength of thought can it be considered acceptable to refer to somebody with whom you disagree as “doucheboy”? As a UVA alum and lifelong fan, I don’t want to see our ranks represented by the likes of these kinds of fans.

  • OAK

    Oopsy! What a stupid article. Bush league.

    • Virginia made it to the College World Series. Making it to the College World Series ain’t winnin’ the College World Series. As a UVA alum, I’d love to see it, but until they do, the points in the article still stand. The 1991-2005 Braves are not considered a great team historically despite winning 14 straight division titles and being a favorite to win several World Series primarily because they only got the job done once. Talk to any FSU baseball fan about their 20 CWS appearances, and they will say back to you, Yeah, but we’ve never won it. Bush league to point out facts that are plain for everybody to see? OK.

  • Rory

    The premise of this article is completely absurd.

    The Braves were division champs for 14 years straight, which means they were one of the top 6 teams (or better) in baseball for 15 years straight. UVa has been a national seed (which means they are ranked top 8 in the nation) going into the NCAA tournament 4 times (2010, 2011, 2013, 2014) in 6 years, and one of those teams is still playing. You might as well compare UVa to the 90-93 Buffalo Bills, it’s just as logical.

    I guess when you have nothing to say, you try to get some attention with a troll article.

    • There are worse things than being compared to the 1990s Atlanta Braves or Buffalo Bills. Both teams had sustained high levels of success, but fell just short of their final goals. I think any UVA sports fan would wish for the same level of success for the football program, as opposed to the run of losing seasons that have left Scott Stadium either half-empty or half-filled with fans of Virginia opponents.

      That said, elite teams are measured by their ability to bring home hardware. The Braves of that long run did it once, but left at least a couple of other trophies on the table. The Bills never did get the big win. UVA baseball under Brian O’Connor has had a run of several great teams. Until it wins the big trophy, it will be hard to use the word elite in reference to it.

      I’ll concede that I’m probably setting the standard a bit high here, but I’m generally of the opinion that people these days are prone to throwing around superlatives without any frame of reference.

    • On the trolling point … it’s funny that I write and post at least 10 positive, informative, glowing articles about UVA sports in general and this baseball team in particular for every critical one, but the ones that get the most reads are the ones that come across as critical.

      The columns that are full of explanation, praise, etc., sit out there on the server largely ignored.

      Maybe people like to read pieces that challenge their thinking. Maybe they just want to complain about being trolled. Either way, there is a full body of work out there from me covering UVA sports in great depth and detail. If you want to ignore everything but the one column that you disagree with, it’s your loss.

      One thing I’ve learned in 20 years of making a living writing about sports and politics is that you can’t do this job well at all if your focus is on worrying about maybe getting something wrong. I’d like to think that I hit much more often than I miss, but I’m not afraid to swing for the fences with two strikes.

      • Rory


        Fair enough. I take back my ‘trolling’ comment. This article was e-mailed to me by some UVa alums friends of mine so I responded to this one. It may not be reflective of your work, I really don’t know but I have no problem taking your word for it.

        Anyway, I’m sure we are both glad that UVa dispatched Maryland. Maybe in a few years you’ll have ample reason to compare UVa’s program to the 1996-2000 Yankees, that would be nice.

        • In ’96, if I was a Yankees beat writer, I can see myself writing after Game 2 that the Yankees had just choked. And then, if the Internet were still not in its relative infancy, getting into a prolonged discussion with message board critics who’d found the story after Game 6.

          I was at Davenport last night, very happy after the big start, happier after the bottom of the eighth, taking selfies from the concourse behind home plate after the 27th out, and was that much happier that we didn’t let Maryland finish the job, because they’re Maryland.

          There’d be no one happier than me to see UVA win it all in Omaha this year, and continue to build on what Coach O’Connor has built in his 11 years. His program is the standard by which other programs at UVA should be measured by. His teams win consistently, he represents the program well personally, and his players are great representatives of the University.

  • Fred

    This is a ridiculous article. Virginia baseball was nothing 15 years ago. Nothing. When I was a student, you just waltzed right into the brand-new 1,500 seat Davenport field. Now, the place seats 5,000 and you have to pay to get in. Well, not only pay, but hope you get tickets.

    The Hoos are going to their third CWS in 5 years, which is no small feat. That speaks to BOC’s coaching and the team’s depth. (Last year’s CWS champion didn’t even make the field this year due to injuries.) I think that is something that should be celebrated, not lambasted.

    I, like any fan or alum, want to see this team win it all. However, I will not be disappointed if they don’t. Just because you are the best team left rankings-wise, doesn’t mean that you are guaranteed to win it all. That’s not how it works in these college tournaments.

    FSU has been to 21 CWS with no titles. ASU has been to 22 CWS, but their last title came over 30 years ago. Then you have Oregon State, which has been to 5 CWS and won the 2006 and 2007 titles. I’m sure we’d all love to be like Texas, but I would pick the consistency of FSU and ASU over the surge and sputter of Oregon State any day.

    • I graduated from UVA in 1994. Two of my first-year suitemates were baseball players, one a starting pitcher. A group of us went to see him pitch ACC games where the attendance was maybe 30, 35 people. We usually had our own usher.

      As a fan and alum, I absolutely love it that UVA baseball is where it is now. I’ve written on this site numerous times about how seeing Super Regional games played on the same field that used to get a handful of people for ACC games 20 years ago is something I will never take for granted.

      As an editor of a small news-gathering operation, I devote a huge percentage of my resources to covering UVA athletics in general, and UVA baseball this spring in particular, because of my personal biases in favor of all things UVA.

      As a UVA product myself, I can’t turn off the critical thinking skills that we all supposedly learned in our time on Grounds. Baseball is a tough sport to conquer, with the postseason not rewarding teams for sustained season-long success, but rather success in the tournament setting. Even so, great teams are measured by their performance in this setting, and just speaking for me, I’d take Oregon State’s two natties over FSU’s 21 CWS appearances any day of the week.

      And all this said, I hardly think that I’m the only person who had these thoughts running through my head on Saturday night. Look back at The Sabre baseball message board in the hours after the game and into Sunday. There was plenty of wailing and gnashing of teeth. The key difference is that I sign my actual full name to my thoughts, whereas the rest hide behind CB handles.

      And then all that said … thanks for reading. If this is your first time on our site, there’s a lot of in-depth UVA coverage, from all angles, with insight, praise and, yes, some criticism.

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