When the all-ACC baseball teams were announced Monday night, Virginia fifth-year right-hander Shooter Starr was not among the Cavaliers honored. He's a middle reliever -- a very good one, but not a player who gets much attention. He has pitched just 14 innings all season.
Yet numbers, even flattering ones such as his 1.29 ERA and .114 opponents' batting average, don't entirely capture Starr's contributions this season. As the oldest and most senior player on the team, the Maret graduate and 1999 All-Met has helped the Cavaliers as much in the clubhouse as on the field.
"For me as a head coach, he's been that silent leader that I have been able to go to and ask him about important things," said Brian O'Connor, Virginia's first-year coach. "He stood out to me when I got the job here. He was a guy that I could rely on right away."
"Guys listen to what he has to say," tri-captain Joe Koshansky said.
As his teammates are fond of reminding him, Starr has been at Virginia for what seems like forever. He's been a contributor throughout his college career, which stretched to five years after an elbow injury forced him to miss last season.
"One guy consistently asks me what it was like to play with Babe Ruth," said Starr, who turned 23 earlier this month. "They joke around like that, ask me what the '60s were like."
Starr absorbs it all with a smile; he knows he's lucky to have this extra year, lucky to be a part of the finest regular season in Virginia baseball history. As they prepare to open the ACC tournament Wednesday against seventh-seeded Duke (24-29), the Cavaliers (42-11) are seeded second and ranked 18th in the nation by Baseball America.
At Monday's ACC awards banquet, O'Connor was named coach of the year and Koshansky, a senior pitcher-first baseman from Chantilly, became Virginia's first player of the year. Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, left-hander Andrew Dobies and shortstop Mark Reynolds also received all-conference honors.
Starr hasn't made headlines like those players. The biggest reason he hasn't pitched more this season, Virginia's coaches say, is his elbow. Fourteen months after doctors replaced the ligaments in his elbow, Starr can't pitch as often or as long as he once could. He also had surgery on his pitching shoulder after his sophomore season in 2001. So the Cavaliers save him for when he's really needed.
"We have not really put Shooter in a position to throw where it hasn't been a very, very important situation," pitching coach Karl Kuhn said. "He always comes in in a situation where we've got to have either an out or a ground ball or we need the game kept in check until we can get back in the game and go to our closer. . . . He has done that beautifully all year long."
Last week at Liberty was one of those outings. Starr came on with one on and two out in the fifth inning after the Flames had knocked Virginia starter Matt Avery from the game with three runs that cut the Cavs' lead to 5-4.
"Those kinds of situations, it doesn't frazzle him," O'Connor said.
Starr faced one batter, cleanup hitter Jeff Brown, and struck him out to end the inning. Then he took a seat for the rest of the game. Chris Gale pitched the next three innings and Virginia went on to a 6-4 win.
It wasn't much, but that's been the role Starr has filled all spring. "It's better than the innings I got last year," he said.
Just the other day, in fact, he was cleaning his room and came upon a memento of his elbow surgery: the bone chip that was causing all the trouble.
"It's been sitting on my desk," Starr said. "Kind of a reminder that I have of something that I overcame. It's a nice reminder that it was just another bump in the road. Here we are, back at it. . . . It's been great to be a part of this. I couldn't have asked for anything more. Except for getting to [the College World Series in] Omaha."