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An unexpected ending

South Boston News
Andrew Abbott in action for the University of Virginia. (Photo courtesy of University of Virginia athletics) / March 23, 2020

When former Halifax County High School pitcher Andrew Abbott was selected by the New York Yankees in the 36th round of 2017 MLB Draft coming out of high school, people knew then that the youngster from Republican Grove was special.

Instead of going to the pros, Abbott had a dream to attend the University of Virginia get better at baseball and go to his “dream school” for an education. Now in 2020 as Abbott gets ready to graduate a year early and receive his bachelor’s degree in biology he’s happy with his decision for his life and his baseball career.

Abbott said it hasn’t been as easy road, as he awaits this year’s MLB Draft. And with the current state of sports on hold due to COVID-19, it does present additional challenges.

Yet the 2019 US Collegiate National Team selectee says that his time at Virginia was good for him as a student and in developing his athletic skills.

“Coming here I knew what to expect,” Abbott said. “I knew I was going to have to challenge myself just to get better just to get myself to the level of competition that D1 baseball is up to. I had a bunch of coaches help me out during the way.

“Billy Wagner was one of my coaches, he kind of helped me mentally.” Abbott said Wagner went to Ferrum College before being drafted by the Astros in 1993.

Abbott said from the time he was small kid playing ball he knew he wanted to go to Virginia and play baseball and then extend that to a professional career in the sport. He said growing up mentally has been a huge part of his success.

“He (Wagner) kind of explained, hey you’re going to have to have this type of mentality growing up if you want to go to U.Va. and then hopefully when you get to MLB you’re gonna have to keep working when no one else is working, pursuing things that don’t look obtainable, but they are; you just have to work very hard for them. I think that’s the biggest thing I’ve grown up from since leaving Halifax was, mentally,” Abbott said.

Abbott felt like this was going to be the season for Cavalier baseball. After two seasons of not appearing in the NCAA’s postseason, he could see this was the year the team had been working for.

In early season spring action, the Cavaliers entered their home stand 1-2, when the stanza was over the Cavs were 14-4.

Abbott said it wasn’t so much that they were winning, but how they were winning that was making the difference this season.

“We went in 1-2 and came out 14-4’” Abbott said. “Be that my first years here I was unfortunately on teams that didn’t make the playoffs so I had been accustomed to not meeting the standards of what Coach (Brian) O’Conner had set here at U.Va. He had like 14 straight Regionals, he’s a master of a coach and knows what he’s doing.

“We knew my third year we were going to have some big players coming in from high school that were going to contribute right away. And you could tell, it was like our offense blew up. We had Zack (Gelof) leading the charge, we had guys coming off the bench that stepped up. My biggest thing that you could notice from a home standpoint was that coming out of that the team was playing together.”

He saw the team going deep in postseason play this year. Noting that it wasn’t like any superstars doing it all but a true team effort, which is what he believed would carry them this season.

“So like games where the pitchers wouldn’t be on the hitters would be on. The games that the hitters weren’t on the pitchers would keep the offense contained from the other team,” Abbott said. It was just a back-and-forth cycle.

“It was like no, one major player, it was more of a team combined effort and that was the biggest thing I took away by knowing that I knew this team was going to deep in the postseason. Were definitely going to go deep, had the talent to go and just needed to play together.”

But the season Abbott envisioned would come to a screeching halt as the world would be faced with the Coronavirus pandemic. Abbott said the team was on the way to Pittsburgh when they got word that the ACC was canceling games.

“I think we were on our way to Pittsburgh actually that Thursday the ACC basically canceled the games or suspended the games,” Abbott remembers. “So like we were in Haggerstown, Md., sitting at a mall on our lunch break and Coach O came in and was like we’re going back to U.Va. This virus is spreading quickly like a wildfire through the country so the ACC is going to suspend us for a few weeks.”

“So we’re sitting on the bus, you know we’re all awestruck; like the seniors the draft eligible guys are all like, ‘“Oh my Lord the season’s done.’” But at the same time we’re thinking we’re lucky we’re here we’re safe. There’s a lot of people out there that can’t fight it.

“The biggest thing I’ve told myself and have learned throughout the years is control what you can control. My play and the team’s play is something we can control, but you know when the whole world is being infected by this pandemic then it’s time for certain things to shut down so we can put our full efforts in containing this and then hopefully in a few weeks you know. It may not be likely but every one holds hope that we will continue to play this season out.

Abbott went on to express though he wants to play it’s not at the expense of a suffering world right now.

“Helping out people that are infected, that will become infected, just kind of do[ing] our part in the community as a whole right now because we can’t control a baseball season being canceled but we can help control this outbreak right now no matter how small our effort is,” Abbott said. “It obviously sucks when you hear baseball season is being canceled, your big season like the draft and stuff for me. But you know that phrase ‘control what you can control’ has been big in my life to this point.

“I think it’s very important for us to realize, hey we’re fighting something where we need to be together as a whole world instead of like separated on many fronts. So I think that was the biggest thing to take away from that.”

Abbott said while the MLB Draft may have to be delayed or possibly postponed for an extended period he’s not worried. He just wants to see the world recover from the current pandemic. He saidhe feels MLB is handling the process as best they can.

He was also in agreement that the NCAA should provide the opportunity for D1 athletes - in particular seniors - whose seasons were canceled this year to gain another year of eligibility to play in college. Abbott said that the draft plays a big part in helping college teams keep their rosters in check.

“They don’t want these colleges to get loaded with 60 players because there is no draft,” Abbott explained. “They have a lot of time to figure it out but I think they are doing a good job taking it day-by-day. “

Abbott said though the typical college day has changed for him, he feels things will get more structured as online classes begin this week. Along with working on an individual research class Abbott said he had been hitting the golf course frequently the week away from classes.

Yet even with all that is going on Abbott still maintains a focus on baseball. The future major league hopeful said he’s never far away from the game he loves so much – saying his dad helped him develop that focus at an early age.

“You have to be committed to the cause 100 percent of the time, 100 percent of the day,” Abbott said. “There’s not a day here that I take off from baseball if I’m not [doing] anything physically for baseball, then I’m prepping my mind for a game.

“There’s always something that makes you better like my dad going out with me and catching an extra 50 pitches when I was young or dad taking me to the batting cage and I used to hit like in high school day in and day out. That kind of training you have to continue to do that.”

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