If you watch any Virginia baseball game for any amount of time this season, you’ve likely noticed one of the things first year utility player Kyle Teel is known for. It’s not his hot bat, his solid fielding, or his composure behind the plate, although all of those have been instrumental to Virginia’s strong finish to the regular season.
It’s his batting helmet.
The helmet seems at least two sizes too big, and as soon as Teel leaves the batter’s box, it starts a jaunty journey off of his head. It usually bounces a couple times — sometimes kept in place by an attempted adjustment by the wearer — before all hell breaks loose and it tumbles to the dirt.
It certainly hasn’t affected his performance on the diamond as the Mahwah, NJ native has a team-best .311 batting average on the season.
Back in April of 2020, Teel decided to forgo the MLB Draft and honor his verbal commitment to head coach Brian O’Connor and the Hoos. “I have been thinking about this for a long time,” Teel told the New York Post at the time. “Me and my family have talked about this. We really think it is important for me to get an education at the University of Virginia. That’s a big part why I chose to forgo the draft.”
The 2020 draft was delayed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, and for Teel, heading to Charlottesville was the best bet. Although the versatile 2020 Gatorade New Jersey Player of the Year sat the first 10 games of his freshman campaign, Teel has proven to be invaluable for the Cavaliers. When usual catcher Logan Michaels was sidelined after a hand injury sustained sliding into home plate at Virginia Tech, Teel jumped into the role.
Teel has started 42 of the 43 games he’s played in, rotating from catcher to right field to designated hitter as O’Connor and Virginia needs. “Kyle Teel has been huge,” O’Connor said in Thursday’s media availability. “[He’s] a really, really talented hitter. We didn’t have him in the first 10 games of the year, and once he got plugged in there, he certainly made a difference for us all year long. He’s very talented.”
On the season, Teel has 51 hits and 20 walks in 164 at bats, and has driven in 33 runs. His eight home runs are the most on the team, and even those are done in true Teel fashion.
“What sticks out to me about Teel was when we were at Clemson, he hit a home run without his batting gloves, without his helmet, and I think it was without his bat, too,” teammate Andrew Abbott said on Thursday. “It just kind of sticks out that hey, this guy can play. It doesn’t really make sense how he plays but like, hey, he’s really good.”
In the ACC tournament opening game against Virginia Tech, it was Teel’s eighth home run — a two-run shot in the bottom of the 3rd inning — that would prove to be the difference in a 3-2 win over the Hokies.
The Hoos finished strong down the stretch, winning 12 of their last 17 games to secure a spot in the postseason. This has led to a lot of comparisons to the 2015 team that used an improbable late-season comeback to win the College World Series. Players from that CWS title team are watching closely as the Hoos try to do it again. Beyond the parallels, former Virginia infielder — and hero of the Super Regional against Maryland in 2015 — Ernie Clement has noticed Teel’s signature equipment.
“Tell Chris Moore [Virginia’s Director of Equipment Room Operations] to get Kyle Teel a helmet that fits him,” Clement told Cavs’ Corner’s Damon Dillman. “That kid is hitting home run after home run and his helmet keeps falling off rounding the bases.”
If Teel can keep hitting home runs and helping the Hoos win, it’s unlikely they make any sort of change to his accessories. Virginia kicks off the 2021 postseason against South Carolina today at noon (ESPN2). If Teel is involved, hold on to your helmets.