On May 17, on the worst night of his career, the closer had to climb the steps out of Boshamer Stadium like the rest of his Virginia teammates. He had to avoid the awkward stares of the 3,000-plus North Carolina fans patiently waiting for the Cavaliers to promptly exit so the Chapel Hill venue could go on with its post-game fireworks display.
With his UVa lid forward on a head held high, he made his way to the bus without a whimper or a clenched fist.
This was Kyle Crockett after a bad performance — a six-run blown save to cost his team the ACC Coastal Division title.
On June 1, on the second night of the best back-to-back stretch in his career, he had to come to the Davenport Field interview room. He had to take reporters’ questions as they aggressively took notes in an effort to meet tight deadlines.
With his Wahoo lid forward on a head held high, he responded without a gloat or a pumped fist.
This was Kyle Crockett after a great performance — another six-out save to clinch his team’s spot in the Charlottesville Regional title game.
“There was no difference whatsoever,” said Gary Crockett, Kyle’s father. “We just encourage him and kind of tell him anything can happen to anybody. You’re going to have good days and bad.
“He handles it very well.”
Starting tonight and lasting through Saturday, Major League Baseball will hold its draft. Crockett’s named is expected to be called in the first five rounds of the 40-round marathon.
But don’t expect the junior to cartwheel over a high selection or to fastball his television over a lower selection.
It’s simply not in his nature. In fact, draft watching might not even be in his weekend plans.
“I’m really not thinking about it at all,” Crockett said. “I’m not just saying that. I’m really just focused on this team right now.”
That would be Virginia, a bunch two wins away from advancing to its third College World Series in five years. The Cavaliers (50-10) host Mississippi State (46-18) in a best-of-three Super Regional beginning at 1 p.m., Saturday.
Like he has all season, Gary Crockett will be joined by his wife, Diane, at Davenport Field. For roughly seven innings, they’ll enjoy the Cavaliers’ battle with the Bulldogs until the focus settles on the bullpen.
And who’s coming out of it.
Crockett has made 28 appearances in 2013, racking up 12 saves and four wins. His ERA is 1.68. His strikeout-to-walk ratio is 68-to-6.
As UVa shortstop Nick Howard puts it: “You get the feeling that the game is over when he comes into the game.”
But as for the Crocketts? Well, the feeling isn’t so automatic.
“When he gets in, I guess that’s when the nervousness starts for us,” Gary said. “My wife, she paces and pulls at her fingernails.”
Kyle Crockett puts his parents through an emotional roller coaster when he comes to the mound. Funny because the left-hander is barely breaking a sweat.
“I try not to show emotion,” Crockett said. “I think when emotion gets in the way, you start thinking and trying to do too much. I think that’s just not me. When I try to do that, I start pitching worse. I just try to go out there and be relaxed and calm.”
The level-headed manner to the closer that 10th-year UVa coach Brian O’Connor called the best he’s ever had was founded in a north Hampton neighborhood some 10-15 years ago.
“He has an older brother and you know how the younger one tries to keep up,” Gary said. “He hung out with his older brother, Adam, and a lot of their friends. I think you just learn to lose most of the time because you’re smaller, you’re outplayed, you’re outsized, you’re not as fast.”
But humbling defeats were eventually mixed with impressive victories.
In his first season of kid-pitch Little League, Crockett was never touched.
“Kyle had the ability to throw really well from 46 feet at a young age,” Gary said. “When they moved [the mound] to 40 feet, he did not give up a hit that year. He threw a no-hitter for the year.”
From Little League, Crockett went to the travel baseball circuit, purposively placed in an older age bracket by his parents, another way of keeping the balance.
“A lot of times he was playing up two years,” Gary said. “He was one of the younger ones on the team, And then, if we were a 10-year-old team, we would play in 11-year-old tournaments.
“So he’s competing against kids that were a couple years older than him.”
By the end of Crockett’s high school career, his fastball was topping out at 88 mph. His Poquoson High Islanders had a pair of state titles. Crockett had a pair of state player of the year awards and a scholarship to Virginia.
“The only thing that he threw in high school was a fastball and a change-up,” Gary said. “Very seldom, maybe twice a game, he would throw a breaking ball. But he would locate his fastball and he would have a really good change-up.
“You can get by with a lot on that in high school.”
Nearing, potentially, his final collegiate season, Crockett, through the help of UVa pitching coach Karl Kuhn, can now run his fastball up to 94 mph, still mix it with a change-up, and then a provide a nasty late-moving slider, a devastating out-pitch that had its grip changed midway through this season.
All of this from a skinny 6-foot-2, 170-pounder.
“He’s got a fast-twitch arm,” Kuhn said. “He’s a very, very fast-twitched guy.”
With a very, very cool demeanor.
Kyle Crockett might get drafted high in the next few days. He might not. He might be a part of an Omaha celebration this weekend. He might not.
Good luck trying to tell.
“If you just told him he won the lottery,” Kuhn said, “he’d probably give you the exact same look as if he’d just lost the game at Carolina.
“He’s the same guy.”