Lucky O'Connor: Big 'small ball' season
"Brian O'Connor, male model extraordinaire," cracks one UVA baseball player as his coach has his photo taken in the dugout.
"Hey Coach, gonna change your name to Zoolander?" says another.
O'Connor takes the teasing in stride. After all, he led UVA to a winning 44-15 season, has been named ACC coach of the year, and his team was both host and the number-one seed in last weekend's NCAA regionals. And this is just his first season here.
An Iowa native, O'Connor spent nine years coaching the Fighting Irish at Notre Dame. But this isn't his first time in Virginia.
After his freshman year at Creighton University, he played baseball in Harrisonburg. He was back again in 1993 after being drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies for a stint with its farm team, the Martinsville Astros. "Martinsville is very different from Charlottesville, obviously," he says.
How Bull Durham was his minor league experience? O'Connor says the Astros are an even lower-level team than the one in the movie.
"But all across the minors, there are some similarities," he says. "You play late, then try to find a restaurant, you don't get up until late, and then do the same thing again the next day."
As for any Susan Sarandons in the crowd? "There's a few," O'Connor admits. "There can be local townies. Fortunately, I was in a committed relationship," he adds.
The garter-belt-wearing Tim Robbins with the fastball that burns makes it to the Big Show in Bull Durham. Any regrets for O'Connor that his favorite pitch– also the fastball– didn't do the same for him?
"I'm an average player," O'Connor concedes. "Every kid in America– their dream is to play the majors. I wasn't quite that talented. Coaching is the next best thing, where I can affect young players."
And apparently he is having a winning effect on his players, and getting a lot of attention for his "small ball" approach, something he claims the media have blown out of proportion.
Qu'est-ce que c'est "small ball"? "You can be the team that hits home runs all the time, or you can bunt to get players on base," he explains. "We've done that in closer games, and it's a style you don't see played that much. As a coach, you use those to best advantage."
Baseball may seem a pretty laidback game– but O'Connor himself isn't laidback. "I'm very goal driven," he says. "I'm a workaholic known to stay in the office until 2 or 3am."
He clears up one other mystery before dashing off to practice. Why don't baseball players get in trouble as much as football players seem to?
"In baseball, you play so many games there's not a lot of down time to get in trouble," replies the coach. "And their temperament is more calm than football players. They're more mild-mannered off the field."
But that doesn't mean they're not driven to win, often wearing lucky socks or underwear ("laundered, of course," notes the coach). Even O'Connor has a good luck charm: He sports a four-leaf clover tattoo, he says, "because I'm Irish."
It seems to be working.
What brought you here? University of Virginia– head baseball coach
What's worst about living here? Housing costs
Favorite hangout? Davenport Field baseball stadium
Most overrated virtue? In general, fairness. The reality is, there always has to be a winner.
What would people be surprised to know about you? I sing country music.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? I wouldn't have gotten a tattoo when I was 19 years old.
What accomplishment are you proudest of? Having played and coached in the College World Series
What do people find most annoying about you? I talk too fast or I move too fast– too much energy.
Whom do you admire? Paul Mainieri, head baseball coach at Notre Dame. He's been my mentor.
Favorite book? The Art of War by Sun-Tzu
What subject causes you to rant? Delinquent parents
What thrills you about life in the 21st century? Modern technology– new opportunities for individual growth
What creeps you out about life in the 21st century? Raising children in a crazy world
What do you drive? Ford Taurus
What's in your car CD player right now? Kenny Chesney
What's your next journey? The beach
What's the most trouble you've ever gotten in? Not calling my wife when I said I would
What do you regret? Not playing college football
Favorite comfort food? Popcorn
What's always in your refrigerator? Popsicles
Must-see TV? ESPN
Describe a perfect day. Breakfast at Waffle House with my two daughters, come from behind 3-2 to win at UVA in baseball, dinner with family.
Walter Mitty fantasy? Winning a College World Series
Who'd play you in the movie? Kevin Costner
Most embarrassing moment? In my first game as an assistant coach, I made a pitching change when the rules didn't allow it.
Best advice you ever got? There are very few second chances in life. Make the most out of the situation you're in.
PHOTO BY JEN FARIELLO