How Andrew Abbott’s Historic MLB Start Is Tied to His UVA Roots

June 29, 2023 By Andrew Ramspacher, Andrew Ramspacher,

Amid celebrating a milestone moment with friends and family members on the field at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, Andrew Abbott was pulled away from the gathering and handed an iPhone.

“Someone wants to say hello,” Abbott’s agent, Tom Hagan, told the former University of Virginia pitching star, who had just made a sterling Major League Baseball debut for the Cincinnati Reds.

There, smiling on the screen, was UVA head baseball coach Brian O’Connor.

“It was a shock, for sure,” Abbott said. “But then we both got emotional. I was just thanking him for what he and the UVA program did for me. And he was thanking me for helping UVA get back to the level we got it to my senior year.”

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A screenshot of that FaceTime call was posted to O’Connor’s Twitter account at 11:20 that night – June 5 – with the coach’s congratulatory message: “Andrew, you EARNED this opportunity and Wahoo Nation is proud of you!”

O’Connor, who’s now helped 30 Wahoos to the big leagues over his 20 seasons at UVA, tries the best he can to see his former players make their MLB debuts in person.

In Abbott’s case, O’Connor was a bit tied up.

The Hoos were then preparing for an NCAA super regional series with Duke University – which they won, advancing to the College World Series for the sixth time in 14 seasons.

Like his alma mater, Abbott thrived in June.

The left-hander from Halifax County, who ended his Virginia career in 2021 with an All-American season and a trip to the CWS, didn’t allow a run over his first three starts in a Cincinnati uniform.

That scoreless streak of 17 2/3 innings is the longest by a Red to begin an MLB career since 1893, when the mound was moved to its current distance from home plate. Abbott is also the first MLB pitcher since that time to begin his career with three scoreless starts of at least five innings. 

Abbott pitched in three games during the Reds’ 12-game winning streak from June 10 to June 23, the franchise’s longest winning streak in the modern era (post-1900).

“It’s been amazing,” Abbott said. “It’s all been so quick, I’m not even two years removed from UVA, but I’m very thankful for how this has all happened. I’m very fortunate.”

Abbott’s path to sudden professional success wasn’t routine. After his junior season was canceled after 18 games due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Abbott went unselected in the abbreviated 2020 MLB Draft, when the event was shortened from its typical 40 rounds to five rounds.

This meant Abbott, who had already earned his bachelor’s degree in biology from the College of Arts & Sciences, was returning for a fourth year on Grounds.

Action shot of Andrew Abbott

Batters facing Abbott during his senior season at UVA had a hard time. The left-hander recorded 162 strikeouts in 2021, the second-most in school history. (UVA Athletics photo)

He took advantage in a couple of big ways, earning a master’s degree from the School of Education and Human Development and transforming from a standout relief pitcher to one of the best starting pitchers in the country.

“I’m incredibly proud of Andrew Abbott,” said O’Connor, who met with Abbott and his family in their South Boston home the day after the 2020 draft to devise a plan for the following season. “He was a warrior in our uniform. We did not anticipate having him back for his fourth year with us, but the draft didn’t work out his way coming out of COVID, and we welcomed him back with open arms. He had a tremendous year for us and helped pitch us back to Omaha that year.”

Abbott recorded 162 strikeouts in 2021, the second-most in UVA history, including 10 in a 6-0 win over the University of Tennessee in the Cavaliers’ opening game of the CWS in Omaha, Nebraska.

A month later, the Reds selected Abbott in the second round of the draft.

“It would be wrong if I didn’t say I wish it would have been a little easier process,” Abbott said, “but, really, it was a blessing for me to go back and be a starter at UVA and have the season we did. I proved I could throw 100-plus innings in a season and all that. It all helped me in the long run.

“I knew when (O’Connor) drove down the day after the draft and we had that conversation, that they were bought in to the plan. So, I just put the work at the end of the day and the results speak for themselves.”

When Abbott first learned he was getting called up from Cincinnati’s minor league affiliate in Louisville to the Reds, he immediately reached out to O’Connor.

The coach was readying for UVA’s NCAA regional game against East Carolina University that evening.

“I was like, ‘I know I’m interrupting your preparation and what not, but I felt the necessity to call you,’” Abbott said. “He had just done a lot for me and helped in my four years there.”

O’Connor didn’t mind.

The Lab Our Nation Turns To For Saving Lives On The Road, to be great and good in all we do
The Lab Our Nation Turns To For Saving Lives On The Road, to be great and good in all we do

“Every player comes here, first and foremost, to win for their team and for Virginia,” O’Connor said, “but they all have dreams and aspirations of reaching the highest level of baseball. And Andrew did it.

“And I really believe he’s got the skill set to stay there for a long time and be a very successful Major League Baseball pitcher.”

Media Contact

Andrew Ramspacher

University News Associate University Communications