Sport - NCAA
Brian O'Connor constant in two decades of UVA baseball
February 15th, 12:13 AM EST
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 SPORTS) -- Davenport Field holds two decades of memories for Brian O'Connor.
"I don't know if you have enough tape for me talking about entering year 20," O'Connor said as he prepares to enter year 20 at the helm of UVA baseball.
Plenty has changed since Oak arrived at Virginia in 2003, including what is now known as The Dish or Disharoon Park as he looked at hundreds of new seats only finish a few years ago.
"I remember standing on this field 20 years ago after being hired and looking out at the field and first week of practice and seeing guys like [Mark] Reynolds and [Ryan] Zimmerman and [Joe] Koshansky," O'Connor reflected on the UVA Baseball Hall of Famers on his first team in 2004, "And seeing none of these stands here."
Over the course of 1,129 games and 789 wins, Kevin McMullan has been by the side of O'Connor every step.
"Well not 20 years," McMullan said about the two decades since accepting the job to join O'Connor at UVA, "But I could imagine what the program has evolved into and the standards and expectations, that's why we came here, that's what we laid the foundation in the first month we were here."
On a long list of accolades the 2015 College World Series championship stands alone, but the consistency speaks for itself. Before O'Connor arrived, UVA had three NCAA Tournament appearances in more than 50 years, but over O'Connor's tenure the Cavaliers have made 16 regionals appearances and five trips to the College World Series.
"There's a reason he's been here for 20 years," junior pitcher Jake Berry said, "I was talking to Brian McGuire, our trainer yesterday about how it's him, our strength coach, Coach Mac and Coach O'Connor, who have now been here longer than a lot of the players have been alive and it's crazy to think about."
Many of the current players on Virginia's roster have no memory of the Cavaliers being coached by anyone else.
"I've been coming to these games since I was a kid because I'm not too far from here," sophomore shortstop Griff O'Ferrall said, "He's the ultimate leader, you can just tell by the way he interacts with players, coaches, fans, he handles his business the right way."
The culture around UVA has sent 29 players to the MLB with 85 selected in the MLB Draft and has continued to bring them back to Grounds.
"Big congrats to Coach O'Connor," Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman and UVA Baseball Hall of Famer Pavin Smith said, "He's one of the main reasons why I decided to come here, so he's been doing it for a long time and doing it at a very high level."
Players have filtered back through Grounds on numerous occasions throughout the years from workouts before heading to spring training to the annual Step Up to the Plate event. Even players from a few years back are taken back by what O'Connor has built in 20 years.
"Just what they've built is insane," UVA Baseball Hall of Famer Kyle Crockett said, "It's incredible the talent they've put out, the recruits that they get in year-after-year and just being as consistent as they are just shows you how good Oak is and the staff that he's put around him."
A lot has changed as expected since 2003, but O'Connor has been the constant for Virginia baseball in their rise to national powerhouse.
"We call ourselves Oak's Army sometimes," junior catcher Kyle Teel said, "He's just a phenomenal leader and we all put great trust in him and the coaching staff and there's a reason he's such a successful coach."
O'Connor believes even with a recently improved Disharoon Park, the changing landscape of college baseball and players younger than his UVA tenure, the opportunity he and his coaching staff set out to create on day one is still the same.
"A lot of hard work, sleep, not much sleep," McMullan said, "But we're all pretty much on the same page as what we wanted, held the players to the highest standards from the get go."
In the build up to year 20, O'Connor will be focused on getting the most out of another Virginia team with ambitions of making it back to his hometown of Omaha. Still it is hard not to take a breath and think back over two decades of practices, bus rides and games.
"Mac and I mention it from time to time, 20 years is a long time, but man has it went fast," O'Connor said, "When this is your life and you're digging in and working every day and trying to put a team out on the field the next year that was better than the year before and chasing that all the time it moves fast.
"Hey, we'll look to see what happens the next 20 years."