From Charlottesville to the pros

Mayberry reflects on time at Virginia

Whit Mayberry was pitching on June 7, 2014: the day he was chosen to play professional baseball for a living. His Cavaliers were embroiled in an NCAA Super Regional game with Maryland. The sky was overcast, with temperatures in the mid-70s, and over 5,000 fans lined the concourse and filled stands at Davenport Field.

Mayberry struck out six Terrapins in four and one-third scoreless innings that day as his team lost, 5-4. The Cavaliers retreated to the clubhouse, where student manager Drew Bonner gave Virginia’s veteran set-up man some exciting news: he had been selected in the 21st round of the MLB First-Year Players Draft, 640th overall, by the Detroit Tigers.

For Mayberry, it was a “special moment” — but not one worth being distracted over. Virginia was gunning for a national championship and Mayberry, who had donned a Cavaliers jersey for five years in a row — one year cut short by a bum elbow — was a genuine team player.

“It wasn’t too hard to get refocused back on what we were trying to accomplish at U.Va.,” he said.

Now, it’s late August. Students are returning to Charlottesville, class starts next week and for the first time since 2010, when he was a brand new Cavalier, Mayberry is somewhere other than on Grounds for the fall — Lakeland, Florida, to be exact.

No longer a student, Mayberry is the owner of a sterling 2.03 ERA and 0.68 WHIP in seven appearances with Detroit’s High-A affiliate, the Lakeland Flying Tigers. The Tigers compete in the Florida State League, a circuit with ball clubs like the Daytona Cubs and Palm Beach Cardinals and lineups featuring many former collegiate stars.

With former major league pitcher Mike Maroth as his pitching coach, Mayberry is playing seven to eight games a week — a significant increase from his collegiate baseball schedule. He credits Maroth with helping him adjust to the physical demands of minor league baseball.

Mayberry lived in Winston-Salem, North Carolina until he was 10, when his family moved to Alexandria, Virginia, where he starred in both soccer and baseball, earning second-team All-Met honors as a senior starting pitcher at St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes.

Despite the change of scenery, Mayberry likes his new home, and is “enjoying the new experiences that professional baseball has had to offer.”

“There’s a lot of new people, a lot of new faces, but Lakeland’s a great place to be transplanted into,” Mayberry said. “There’s a lot of friendly people down here.”

According to Mayberry, he is living out his dream. Still, he also said he will miss the life he knew at Virginia — especially the people who made his time in Charlottesville a truly well-rounded experience.

“I’m definitely going to miss all the friends I’ve made, miss my coaches and all the people at U.Va. as well,” he said. “I was there for a long time, and I got to meet some really great people.”

Mayberry was named to the All-ACC Academic Baseball Team as a senior, when he was also one of 30 nominees for the Lowe’s Senior CLASS award, which recognizes excellence in “community, classroom, character and competition.” Virginia teammate Nate Irving, now a catcher in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization, called him “one of our leaders, if not our leader as a group” earlier this year.

“We all look up to him,” Irving said. “We all strive to be more like Whit Mayberry at times.”

While Mayberry “enjoyed classes and got to learn a lot of cool things” at Virginia, he said there are certain things he is glad are now behind him.

“I probably won’t miss writing papers — you know, having to stay up late until the morning getting some of the more challenging assignments,” he said. “But during my time there, I feel like I’ve come to appreciate the experiences [and] all the work that the academic part does entail.”

Mayberry continues to keep in touch with his Virginia baseball teammates, seven of whom are also new minor leaguers. The Cavalier baseball contingent stretches many miles, with second baseman Branden Cogswell honing his skills in Beloit, Wisconsin, right-hander Nick Howard throwing fastballs in Dayton, Ohio and left fielder Derek Fisher stationed in Troy, New York. Mayberry said he is grateful for the camaraderie he and his teammates developed while playing together and have since sustained.

“This is one nice thing about U.Va.,” Mayberry said. “When you leave, you feel like you’re part of a family.”

Mayberry said he only started earnestly thinking about the possibility of playing professionally during his first year in Charlottesville.

“I mean, I’ve been playing baseball a long time, but most of the time it was just for fun,” Mayberry said. “I didn’t really think about playing minor league baseball. But when I came to U.Va. when I was a freshman, I realized a lot of the guys got drafted. I thought, ‘Wow. I’d love to play this game as long as possible.’”

Now, Mayberry has that chance — and no matter where the game takes him, he said Virginia will be the place his dreams achieved true flight.

“You know, I was really lucky,” Mayberry said. “I feel really fortunate to have had my experiences that I’ve had at U.Va., especially with the baseball team.”

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