McMullan’s steady voice has helped Virginia

CHARLOTTESVILLE – In the fall of 2010, Steven Proscia arrived in Virginia with the talent for spotting fastballs and changeups from an opponent’s hands and the power to drive those pitches all over the park.

But he struggled to hit sliders.

By the time spring arrived, Proscia delivered a freshman season to remember, hitting 10 home runs in his rookie year with the Cavaliers — and enjoying sliders.

“I owe it all to coach Mac,” Proscia said Friday morning. “We worked for hours and hours in the cages. One day my hands were bleeding because I had swung so much. But it’s what I had to do to get it right. He taught me how to find the dot on the slider. What should I look for.”

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Coach Mac, as UVa assistant coach Kevin McMullan is known, was Brian O’Connor’s first hire when O’Connor took over the Cavaliers program 21 years ago. O’Connor said Friday that he contacted McMullan before he was even offered the Virginia job and wanted him to be in line just to be safe.

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If consistency has been the hallmark of O’Connor’s wildly successful run as UVa’s coach, one that now includes 18 NCAA appearances, then McMullan deserves a lot of credit for that, both for his work instructing hitters and for his recruiting efforts.

“He doesn’t like to be in the spotlight too much,” said Proscia, who played professionally for four seasons and was inducted into UVa’s Hall of Fame in 2019. “But he deserves a lot of credit for the way this program has developed in recent years. years.”

This season, 14 years after McMullan harnessed Proscia’s power and potential at the plate, an incoming freshman debuted with a monster season under McMullan’s tutelage. Henry Ford became the first Virginia player since Proscia to hit double-digit home runs as a freshman. Ford is up to 17 this year, a program record for a first-year player.

The Cavaliers have a team-record 114 home runs this season, ninth in the nation, including Henry Godbout’s three-run shot to win Friday’s regional opener against Penn.

It is the second year in a row that they have set a new standard in that category. They scored double-digit runs 27 times, going 24-3 in those games.

And the players said much of the credit for that production goes to McMullan.

“Coach Mac is kind of the driving force behind this whole offense,” shortstop Griff O’Ferrall (St. Christopher’s) said after Friday’s 4-2 win. “We work closely with him every day. The mentality he brings to the team, the work ethic, the focus and the competitive drive he brings to our daily preparation is probably what makes him so special for us.”

The son of a professional football player, McMullan – who himself attended college on a football scholarship before his baseball career took off – has taken the same approach since agreeing to join O’Connor in 2003.

He had worked as a minor league manager in the Atlanta Braves system and was an assistant coach at East Carolina, St. John’s and Indiana University of Pennsylvania, his alma mater.

Those years bouncing from job to job — and the challenging lifestyle it brings — are part of why McMullan thinks his longevity at UVa has been so special, and why he hasn’t jumped at the head coaching opportunity that have occurred over the years.

“I think when I got here the timing was right and the people were right,” McMullan said. “I didn’t know if I would be here 21 years, but (O’Connor) and I have a great friendship, other than a coaching relationship. We respect each other enormously. He has been very good to me, and sometimes the grass is not greener on the other side.”

21 seasons together, including 1,251 games, six trips to Omaha and the 2015 national championship, have forged a close relationship between the two men. O’Connor and McMullan raised their children together in the Charlottesville community and the separation between their work and home lives is essentially non-existent.

“The great thing about our relationship is that we can say anything to each other,” O’Connor said. “When you have the kind of relationship where you can be 100% open and honest with someone, that’s something very special.”

It set the stage for something special in Virginia, where the pair hopes to lead the team to a super regional for the ninth time. What McMullan and O’Connor have brought to the program is a level of consistency in their approach that has produced consistent wins for more than two decades.

“I think the consistency of teaching, coaching and recruiting are all intertwined,” McMullan said. “We’ve basically had the same message since we’ve been here. With that consistency, you can move a group of players out, bring in a new group of players, and the same message remains uninterrupted.”

And so are the voices that conveyed this message.

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