Home Brian O’Connor focused on chance at national title, but this one’s personal, too

Brian O’Connor focused on chance at national title, but this one’s personal, too

Chris Graham
brian o'connor
Photo: UVA Athletics

Virginia Baseball will be making its sixth appearance in the College World Series since 2009, so, six times in 15 years. But it will be the first appearance for this group, UVA coach Brian O’Connor, an Omaha native and famous son, noted after the ‘Hoos clinched their 2023 CWS trip with a 12-2 win over Duke on Sunday.

“Although this is our sixth appearance, this is their appearance,” O’Connor said.

“You know, I said it last weekend, you know, this baseball program is here for these players to wear this uniform and compete for a championship. It’s not for us as coaches,” said O’Connor, and he could have added, it’s not for the rest of us who are tagging along, which I’ll get to a little more in depth in a minute.

“We get to enjoy it because of the work that they deliver and their performance,” O’Connor said. “I’m just so excited for every one of them to have an opportunity to walk in that stadium and compete for an opportunity to win a national championship.”

O’Connor has one of those, from back in 2015.

That team was a surprise College World Series participant, after barely playing its way to an at-large bid following a so-so regular season.

The 2023 Cavaliers will be one of the favorites, with an offense that has averaged nine runs a game in the postseason, and a starting pitching rotation that is averaging just short of seven innings per outing with a sub-2.00 ERA in the month of June.

It does help that the program knows its way around Omaha, which I’m looking forward to getting some up close and personal knowledge on myself.

Yep, I’m tagging along, heading out Thursday night from the Charlottesville-Albemarle Airport, getting into Omaha around midnight local time.

At this writing, we don’t know if the ‘Hoos open on Friday or Saturday, but we know that they get at least two games – the first round of action in the CWS is like the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, a four-team double-elimination tournament.

There are actually two of those going on at the same time beginning on Friday.

The winners of those two then meet in a best-of-three championship series, akin to the Super Regionals round, that is set to begin on Saturday, June 24.

We do know at this stage that Virginia, the #7 national seed, gets #2 seed Florida in its first game, whether it’s on Friday or Saturday.

The other half of the Virginia bracket has TCU meeting Oral Roberts, a regional four seed that will be the media darling as the Cinderella in this year’s World Series.

A week at the College World Series has been on my, I hate the term bucket list, but, that, for a long time, so I’m fortunate to be able to tag along this summer.

In addition to reporting back on the baseball part of the trip, I’m hoping to get a sense of the flavor of the CWS, particularly how entrenched the UVA traveling party is with the local scene given how often our group gets to go out there.

“A lot of teams, Omaha’s the goal, right?” O’Connor said. “A lot of teams have it on their hats, they have T-shirts, they say it in the huddle. Certainly, that’s a goal of ours.

“But you know, I’ve learned over our trips there that you’re not satisfied with just being in Omaha, right, it’s about an opportunity to compete, eight teams competing for a national championship. And that’s what these guys’ focus will be when we go out there.”

O’Connor choked up at this point in his chat with reporters.

“I am looking forward to seeing my mom,” he said. “This will be the first time that I’ve either played in that event or coached in the event that my father hasn’t been there.”

O’Connor’s father, John O’Connor, 82, died on Nov. 7 after battling dementia.

John was, among many other things, Brian’s Little League coach, and in between coaching baseball and working two jobs, he made sure to Brian and his two brothers across the river each June to take in the College World Series when they were growing up.

Brian O’Connor is, famously, included in the “Road to Omaha” statue of celebrating players located in front of Charles Schwab Field Omaha, the home to the College World Series, from his appearance at the World Series in 1991 as a pitcher with his hometown Creighton University team.

He’s won it all, he’s on the statue, but he’s also still a son who will be, in addition to coaching his team, also honoring his father, and his mother, this week.

“I’m just looking forward to seeing my mom and give her a big kiss. Just excited about that,” O’Connor said.

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].