Saturday evening the Virginia baseball program welcomed six new members to the Virginia Baseball Hall of Fame.
The 2020 inductees were selected on a criterion that included accolades as a player, distinguished careers in amateur or professional baseball, and/or significant contributions through work or service made to the university community.
The Class of 2020 included Kevin Arico, Tyler Cannon, Ryan Gilleland, Nick Howard, Jarrett Parker, and Chris Taylor. This collective group of UVA alumni competed in three College World Series, five NCAA Super Regionals, and two ACC Championships. Four were selected in the MLB Draft and the group set eight school records as active players.
These six join the inaugural 15 players, which included 2019 World Series Champions Sean Doolittle and Ryan Zimmerman, and seven more from 2019’s event.
Following the ceremony, guests were invited to preview the 1186 To Omaha: 2015 Virginia Baseball documentary, an inside look at Virginia’s run to the 2015 College World Series title. The documentary will air on the ACC Network on Feb. 9.
Tyler Cannon (2007-2010) was part of Virginia’s first team to win an NCAA Super Regional and advance to the College World Series. When asked about his greatest UVA baseball memory, Cannon offered winning the Oxford Regional in 2009 and earning a trip to the CWS.
“I can’t put in into words how special that moment was; dogpiling at Ole Miss and going to the College World Series for the first time in program history,” said Cannon. “I still remember it like it was yesterday and it’s something I’ll be able to tell my four-year old and six-year old. Nobody can ever take that away from me.”
Asked what brought him to Charlottesville for his college baseball career, academics and a coaching staff that cared were at the top of the list.
“The academic piece was always very attractive,” recalled Cannon. “Both my parents are school teachers and so education obviously was very important. But the first time, the interaction that I had which Coach Brian O’Connor and Coach Kevin McMullen, I just had a sense that they were good people and that they really cared about their players. One thing that I always remembered, both Mac and Oak, they always remembered my sisters’ names, my mom and dad, like after the first time they met them, that was something that resonated with me. Obviously, they cared. If I was going to go somewhere, on my own for the first time, is it going to be with people I can trust that could help develop me on and off the field.”
Cannon, who now coaches the infield and hitters at Liberty University says, despite some recent post-season setbacks, the Cavalier baseball program is still held in high regard.
“Being on the recruiting trail I experience those perceptions a little bit more than someone that’s not into college baseball,” said Cannon. “Virginia is still looked upon as a very prestigious college baseball program. Unfortunately, we have to play them this year.”
Joined by his father Chris Sr., from Virginia Beach, former Cavalier shortstop Chris Taylor took little time to recall his favorite UVA moment. UVA fans know it immediately too.
“The walk-off hit against Irvine to go the College World Series,” he said. “I’ve had tons of unbelievable moments in my career, in college and professionally, but I don’t think any of them top that moment. Coming through for my team and the city in that dramatic of a fashion, the dogpile and everything, it’s pretty surreal.”
Taylor is one of just 25 current Major League Baseball players who have played in both the College World Series and an MLB World Series (2017 & 2018). Asked if he ever imagined that happening, he said “It never crossed my mind.”
“It’s pretty cool to hear that. Hearing that now, it hits a little different,” added Taylor. “That 2011 World Series was a special group and I’m so proud to be a part of that team. To have the opportunity to play in the highest level in college and professionally is pretty cool.”
Taylor was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in 2012 and after an up-and-down time in Seattle, he was traded to the Dodgers in 2016 where he has become an invaluable utility player.
“I always wanted to be a shortstop coming up; there’s a sense of pride being a shortstop,” Taylor said. “When I got traded to the Dodgers, I knew that if I wanted to play and I wanted to be in the big leagues I was going to have to play other positions. Shortstop was pretty much taken by Cory Seager so the only way I was going to get valuable playing time was if I played a little bit of everywhere. That made my decision a little bit easier to embrace that role of being a utility player.”
Following the ceremony, Cannon and Taylor both joined the guests, coaching staff, and fellow inductees at the Paramount Theater in downtown Charlottesville for the preview of 1186 To Omaha. The one-hour documentary will debut on Sunday, Feb. 9 at 9 p.m., exclusively on ACC Network (ACCN).
The film chronicles the rise of one of the most successful college baseball programs of the last decade and includes highlights and reflections from key members of the 2015 team and alumni. The premier was the first time Coach O’Connor actually saw the complete video.
“I saw the movie to about the 70% mark, before the graphics and narration happened, but I haven’t seen the final product. I’m excited as anybody to see it,” O’Connor said before the debut.
Virginia’s head coach is also excited about his 2020 team seeing the documentary.
“Our current team doesn’t know a whole lot about it,” O’Connor said. “Obviously, they know we won the National Championship, but they don’t really know a lot about that 2015 team. I’m excited to see their reaction and for them to really learn how a team can go through a struggle; and that season was often a struggle for us. We found a way to get into the NCAA Tournament and ultimately won the National Championship. The take-away is just hang in there, you’re never out of it and just give yourself an opportunity and you have a chance to do something special.”
Following a heartbreaking loss to Vanderbilt in the 2014 College World Series Championship series, Virginia entered the 2015 season with its sights set on making the 1,186-mile trip back to Omaha. But a rash of injuries and tough losses had the Cavaliers on the verge of missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since O’Connor took the helm in 2004. A late-season run gave the Hoos renewed hope as the club relied on the strength of the program’s culture to make one of the sport’s most remarkable turnarounds en route to a CWS Championship. It ended with a finals rematch against Vanderbilt and the ACC’s first College World Series title since 1955.
O’Connor said the interesting part of the process of doing the documentary was sitting around having content brainstorming sessions.
“We talked about everything that has happened in the history of our program but also that run from the end of 2014 to the win in 2015,” O’Connor said. “It’s been great to recollect and think about all the different things that’s happened though our time here. The movie memorializes what was accomplished and is something we can look back on for years to come.”
ESPN baseball commentator Karl Ravech narrates the documentary produced by Bill Reifenberger and Silverthorn Films.