Learning Curve

This Turks Team Produced Coaches As Well
U.VA’s O’Connor Was Part of Star-Studded 1990 Turks

By David Driver
Daily News-Record

Brian O’Connor had never been to Virginia when he started driving from his native Nebraska to Harrisonburg in the spring of 1990 to play for the Turks.

“I drove out here with two of my teammates that I played with at Creighton,” recalls O’Connor, then a college pitcher at the Omaha school.

Little did he know that 30 years later his name would be part of the baseball landscape in Virginia as the coach of the college power Cavaliers.

That 1990 Turks team also included catchers Tom Walter and Kevin O’Sullivan. Both are also current Division I head coaches – Walter at Wake Forest and O’Sullivan, who played at Virginia, at Florida. While one of the goals of the VBL is help send players to the pro ranks, this Harrisonburg team paved the way for top-flight college coaches.

“That is pretty amazing there are three Division I coaches” from that team, O’Connor, 49, told the News-Record this week.

The 1990 season was the first as an owner for Bob Wease with the Turks.

“They were all three pretty good players,” said Wease, also the long-time Harrisonburg manager. “I am really proud of those guys. It is an honor to watch these guys play and then go on with their lives, either as players or coaches.”

The most prominent in these parts is O’Connor, who in 2015 led the University of Virginia to the College World Series title in his hometown of Omaha. Six years earlier the Cavaliers made their first showing at the CWS – and the first for a Virginia school since James Madison made a trip in 1983 under Brad Babcock.

O’Sullivan led Florida to the national title in 2017.

“Two of those guys have won a national title. I am hoping to complete the trifecta,” Walter said, with a laugh, Wednesday from North Carolina.

That 1990 Turks team also included JMU products Mike Hubbard, Larry Mitchell, and Doug Harris. Lynchburg native Hubbard, a catcher, and Charlottesville High graduate and pitcher Mitchell made it to the majors as players. Harris peaked at Triple-A as a pitcher and was an assistant general manager last year for the world champion Washington Nationals.

Hubbard began the 1990 summer season playing with the Harrisonburg Chicks in the Rockingham County Baseball League before Wease, who was overseeing both clubs, called him up to the Turks. The manager for the Turks in 1990 was Curt Kendall, the former coach at Bridgewater College.

“I was coming off my freshman year at JMU,” Hubbard said. “I do remember Brian O’Connor and other folks.”


O’Connor spent the summer of 1990 working for the city of Harrisonburg during the day and playing for the Turks at night.

“I needed to make money. I got up early in the morning and worked for the city on the paint crew, and painted street lines,” said O’Connor, who was then 18. “We had this machine on the back of the truck. It taught me discipline. I needed to roll out of bed every morning and work a job. It was a great experience. We all lived together in this old college dorm.”

The Turks – in a baseball rarity – had off the night of July 4, 1990, according to O’Connor. So he headed to the nation’s capital for the first time in his life and took in the anniversary celebrations on the National Mall, along with some VBL teammates.

That summer of 1990, Walter also had a day job.

“I worked on the back of a trash truck,” he said. “It was the greatest summer job of all time. You worked your route until you were done. You would get paid for eight hours. We would start at 7 a.m. and there was never a day we were not done by 11 a.m.”

After that summer, Walter went back to Georgetown for his senior season. Once his college career was over, he got into coaching as an assistant at George Washington.

He was later the manager for the New Market Rebels as they won the VBL title in 1994. One of his pitchers was lefty Mike Venafro, a JMU product who would play in the majors from 1999 to 2006.

Another future Major Leaguer with the Turks in 1990, according to Wease was pitcher Sean Maloney, a Georgetown product who broke in with Milwaukee in 1997 and pitched for the Dodgers the following season.

As for O’Connor, he doesn’t remember his statistics from his season with the Turks in 1990. “I got to start some games on the mound. The competition was very good,” he said.

O’Connor, after a summer in Harrisonburg, spent 1991 playing in the Alaskan League. After college, he got into coaching and took over the Cavaliers before the 2004 season after working as an assistant at Creighton and Notre Dame.

He learned to win in Harrisonburg three decades ago, though the Turks lost in the playoffs in 1990.

“Bob had a fire in his belly,” O’Connor said. “Bob Wease wanted to win. He did not like losing; I liked that. You want to win all of the time. He was very, very competitive.”