BRISTOL, Tenn. – In a college baseball season that was entirely too short, Virginia Tech freshman Gavin Cross got it started in style.
When the Tennessee High product pulled a single to right field in the top of the first inning on Valentine’s Day against San Diego State, it brought home what may have been the very first run of the NCAA Division I baseball season.
Cross, who turned 19 the day before, was batting fifth, starting in his first collegiate game at the home of the 2016 National Champion Coastal Carolina Chanticleers in Conway, S.C.
“I got a 2-0 count and I was looking fastball and he threw me a changeup with a runner on second,” said Cross, who was a two-time All-Class AAA first team honoree for the Vikings, batting .385 with 42 runs scored, 31 RBIs and five home runs last season. “I was out in front and just found a hole for a hit and scored the first run.
“I think it was like the first RBI of the college baseball season because we played at 11 in the morning. That is what a couple of other guys said in the dugout. It was really fun and I miss it, but I was just blessed to be able to play. That first hit was a big one.”
He had many more for the Hokies, batting .369 (24-for-65) through 16 games, scoring 14 runs, driving in eight more, was a perfect 7-for-7 in stolen bases and played error-free ball in right field and at first base. He also saw a brief outing on the mound.
“I have been very pleased. I am just trying to help the team win and have fun. The biggest part is just having fun with the guys. It was just a really fun group to be around,” Cross said. “I don’t know if I would say I exceeded my expectations, but I definitely didn’t not succeed with what I was trying to do. I always want to do more than what I am doing, but I am very pleased with what happened.”
It didn’t, however, end the way he would have liked. Virginia Tech (11-5, 1-2 ACC) defeated George Mason 5-2 for a third straight win on March 11, with a weekend series up next with ranked Miami.
“We definitely had the right players and the season was just getting going,” Cross said. “I think we would have had a chance to have a really good year. Our rotation was extremely good and we had the right players. It just kind of sucks that we won’t have the same team next year, but we will have some of the same guys.”
That’s because in just a matter of days, the season was over due to the coronavirus. First, the series was called off, the next day the season was suspended for two weeks, and the NCAA then canceled all games the following day.
“Our coaches got a call like in the middle of a meeting saying you have got to send your guys home, the ACC is done,” said Cross, a Business Management major, who is back in Bristol taking online classes, while also providing hitting lessons for a few area kids. “They told us to clean out our lockers. We had exit meetings and we came home so everybody is at home.”
Virginia Tech missed out on 37 regular season games and who knows how many postseason contests, but Cross certainly did enough in that short span to impress Virginia Tech third year head coach John Szefc.
“Gavin has been a great addition to our program. He had a tremendous freshman year before our season was canceled,” Szefc said. “Offensively, defensively, he has been an ACC caliber player since the time he has gotten here.
“On the field, in the classroom and personality-wise, he is just a tremendous guy to around on a daily basis and is an ACC caliber athlete in every phase of the game.”
Cross was part of plenty of success at Tennessee High, and took that with him to the highest level of college baseball.
“It was a big jump. I would say what I took out of playing for Tennessee High would how to be a team,” said Cross, whose father, Adam, played at East Tennessee State and also spend three years in professional baseball. “I don’t know necessarily if the competition got me prepared, but like from a team aspect, I feel like it kind of made me who I was as far as being a team player versus being an individual player.
“I was really close with all of our seniors and we won a lot so I am kind of used to winning. I guess I took that from here to there and I just want to win and be a team.”
He fit in just fine, quickly earning a starting spot with a young, but talented team that had just four seniors.
“I thought I was going to start, maybe not from the first day I got there, but in the fall I saw there was a chance,” said Cross, who wears No. 19 for the Hokies. “I had a really good fall and I got to know our coaches really well and just tried to play as hard as I can and it just turned out I got a start in the first game and had a pretty good year.
“I felt really good and just blessed to have an opportunity to play at that level and take advantage of it.”
Pitching can be albatross for any rising college freshman, but the 6-foot-3, 210-pound Cross has adjusted just fine, collecting seven multi-hit games, including 3-for-4 performances against both Georgia Tech and ETSU, which is where his parents, Adam and Becky Cross, went to school.
“There are definitely harder throwers, better pitchers. They know how to pitch. Just because you are in a 2-0, 1-0 count you are not going to get fastballs down the middle, they still make pitches,” said Cross, who was 4-1 with a 1.03 ERA on the mound last season for Tennessee High. “Our pitching staff was really good and back in the fall I saw some of the top arms in the ACC.
“Once we got into season play, I felt comfortable and after the first hit I was like just go out there and do my thing. I felt like I saw the ball well all year. Definitely harder than here, better pitches, a lot of more pitchability, but I just trust what I am doing and put it into the game.”
It may have been following his worst performance of the season that Cross showed the most growth at the plate, going 0-for-4 with four strikeouts in his first ACC game, a loss at Georgia Tech.
“It kind of brought me back to reality. Every single pitcher I saw I was just getting hits off of. That was my first 0-fer for a while and it just kind of set me back,” said Cross, who told his father via phone that his “swing was great,” he just missed some good pitches. “It just humbled me a little bit and I was like I need to step up the next day. I think I came back with three hits and a couple of RBIs, but that just kind of humbled me.
“At least I showed my coaches that I am not going to be fazed by a bad game and just try to bounce back and help the team win however I can.”
His father, who has coached at Walters State and continues to assist with the Tennessee High program, was pleased with more than just those three hits.
“Mentally for him to be a freshman in that spot to come out and put three or four good quality at-bats together and have three balls fall in for hits,” said Adam, who feels like his son’s best attribute is his “extremely high baseball IQ”, having been around it his whole life. “I called him later than night and I said ‘I am proud of you, I love you, but it is not about the three hits, it is about the mentality of you being mature enough to just come back and out and do your thing.’
“When you get kids that have that kind of mentality with that ability and drive and effort to want to succeed, good things happen.”
Cross, who should get another year of eligibility as a spring sports participant, certainly feels for those he left behind at Tennessee High, with the high school sports season at a standstill due to the
“I think it is worst for the high school kids to be honest with you because we get the luxury of having the extra year if they ended up doing it,” said Cross, who has a pair of younger siblings, Garrett and Kendall. “We get four years, we can redshirt, we can do different things, but there’s is just over.
“I feel for them because I can’t imagine like last year with our team if that had happened to us. High school is like playing with your best friends. It’s not just guys that are good at a sport with you, they are kids you grew up with. I felt for the high school seniors for sure.”
Cross, whose first semester grade point average was near 4.0, hopes to spend his summer playing in a wooden bat league, either in the Coastal Plains or Cape Cod and then get back to Virginia Tech, ready for another season of baseball.
Hopefully next time he can get a full season in.
“I enjoyed it. It was fun. I just miss being with my teammates,” said Cross, who was able to attend some Virginia Tech football and basketball games. “I don’t really know many people outside of baseball just because that is the only people we spend time with.
“It was really fun, a really fun group of guys and I look forward to getting back.”
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