Leading with the long ball
Gavin Cross might lead the Hokies baseball team in hammering home runs, but that doesn’t quite directly translate to hammering the ground with the celebratory home run sledgehammer.
“I haven’t done it as much as everybody else because my back was bothering me there for a while,” said the Hokies’ sophomore outfielder. “There was one week where I hit a homerun in like every single game and I didn’t slam it but once because that thing's heavy. So, I just kind of tapped it on the ground.”
The celebration occurs each time a Hokie sends a ball over the outfield wall and consists of players emerging from the bench, tossing the roughly 10-pound sledgehammer to the longball hitter, and cheering as he plants it into the ground. It began during the COVID-19 shortened 2020 season and gained national attention as one of baseball’s best celebrations this spring.
Regardless of his sledgehammer stats, Cross’ 11 home runs and 35 RBIs have helped the Hokies as the team climbed to 27-23 overall and its first ACC Tournament berth since 2015 with a 16-20 record in conference. Their first game will take place on Tuesday at 3 p.m. against UVA.
“The biggest highlight for me this season is probably just the team in general as far as overall how we’ve been playing,” Cross said. “I just think it’s different from teams of the past … We’re really starting to see the program turn around in a good way.”
Cross was also named ACC Player of the Week in April, the first Hokie to do so since 2017.
As the regular season ended, Cross, who is from Bristol, Tennessee, shared a little bit about his passion for the sport and what he feels makes this team special.
When did you start playing baseball?
I started playing tee ball when I was like 5 or 6, but I’ve been playing wiffleball in my front yard since I don’t even know, probably less than a year old. My dad played in the minor leagues and played at ETSU [East Tennessee State University] … so it’s kind of always been part of my family.
What do you like about baseball?
Not every sport gets to play every single day, and not every sport, if you go 3 for 10 [hitting], is a success. I like the challenge of every single day. It’s something new, so it doesn’t really matter what happened yesterday. It doesn’t matter what’s going to happen tomorrow, you just take it day by day. I really enjoy that mental aspect of if you go 4 for 4, how are you going to come to the park the next day versus if you go 0 for 4. And the mental approach of handling success and failure as a team.
What is one of your personal highlights from the season?
For me personally probably hitting for the cycle at ETSU. I flied out my first at bat, then I hit a grand slam in my second and then I hit a triple. So, I already had the home run and triple, and the triple is by far the hardest one … My next at bat I hit a double, so I had two at bats left in the game to hit a single and I was, come on Gavin.
I got out my out my fifth at bat and then it was the ninth inning with two outs and I got a chance to come up again. And I got a single up the middle to complete the cycle 10 minutes from my house. That’s something I’ll probably never forget.
What do you think the sledgehammer celebration adds to the team?
It’s been really good for us as far as providing a little bit of extra energy on the bench, and that’s good, especially toward the end of the season when you’re a little fatigued and tired. It’s something to kind of spark some energy, help you give you a little more focus perhaps … it’s gone pretty public. I honestly think think some people come to our games just to see it.
What is your walk-up song and why did you pick it?
"Fishing in The Dark" by Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.
All my teammates make fun of me for being from Bristol and having like a country accent, so I went to one of my country songs. I had it for the first week and I was going to change it after that, but the whole crowd loved it so I don’t think I can ever change it.
What do you feel makes this team special?
We have three fifth-year seniors that were able to come back because of COVID, and just having them at practice you can tell they know their time is coming to an end. Just having them back for their COVID year, just playing for them and, hopefully, doing something special for them is kind of cool.
What’s the best part of being a Hokie?
My teammates. I don’t get a chance to go out and meet a lot of different friends and what not, especially now because of COVID, so the camaraderie we have together is important. We all go through the same stuff. We can rely on each other and we can all relate, and we all love the game a baseball. They're friendships that will probably last a lifetime.
Written by Travis Williams