Chris Taylor has always been interested in sports. Following in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps who both wrestled in college for Virginia Tech, Chris was an outstanding young wrestler at Great Neck Middle School, where he won a city wrestling championship. But as Chris got older, his love of the sport gave way to another—baseball.
While attending Frank W. Cox High School, he shifted gears and excelled again. He was named All-Tidewater Region Player of the Year in 2009. Not long after, he was recruited by the University of Virginia to play baseball for the Cavaliers.
At the end of his junior year at UVA, he was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in 2012 and played minor league baseball for a couple of years before he was called up to Major League Baseball. Two years later, he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers where he played in three World Series events, eventually hoisting the Commissioner’s Trophy in 2020.
CoVa Mag: You were an outstanding wrestler when you were younger. Why the switch to baseball?
Chris Taylor: I always knew baseball is what I loved. I wrestled from a pretty early age. I was fairly serious about it through elementary school and early middle school, but I eventually realized it just wasn’t for me. I didn’t have the joy that I had playing baseball when I was wrestling. My dad and my granddad grew up wrestling, so I think I stuck with it partly for them, and it was also good for me. It gave me something to do in the winter and it was a great way to keep in shape. After my last year in middle school, I just decided that I wanted to focus on baseball and do what I wanted to do.
Did your dad and grandfather get upset with you for going to UVA versus Tech?
No. If anything, I would say they held a grudge against Virginia Tech for not recruiting me more. Tech never offered me a scholarship, so they couldn’t put it on me to go to the better baseball school, that also offered me a scholarship.
You had a great career in high school. You had a great career in college. Then, all of a sudden, you’re drafted to the majors. What was that like for you?
It was kind of a surreal experience, I think. It’s obviously part of the dream that every baseball player has. The first step is getting drafted and getting a chance to play. It was cool. It was right after my junior season ended at UVA. It was a good pick-me-up. We had just lost in the regionals, so we were pretty bummed about not doing better in the post-season for college. Then later that week was the draft, and obviously, I was just thrilled to get an opportunity to advance my career.
After getting drafted, you played in the minors for a while, then got called up to “The Big Show.” How exciting was it for you to play in the majors?
It was a really cool moment to realize that what you’ve dreamed of your whole life is actually, finally happening. You can kind of see it in the cards. I knew I was having a good year and I was very hopeful that was going to happen, but you never really know. Earlier that year I thought I was going to get called up, but I ended up getting hurt. There are no guarantees. So, when it finally does happen, it’s a pretty awesome moment, and being able to call your parents and tell them is really cool.
What were you doing when you got the call?
I was at the gym. Our AAA team was in Tacoma, so I was at the gym getting a workout in before I thought I had a game that night in Tacoma. The Mariners called me right as I was walking in the door and they told me, “Hey, you’re starting at shortstop tonight in Seattle, so get over here as soon as you can.” I didn’t really have too much time to let it sink it. It quickly went from being thrilling to having the nerves kick in, for sure. And that drive up to Seattle is about a 45-minute drive, so I definitely had a lot of anxiety on the way up there. As a young guy, you want to be the first one in the clubhouse. So, I was trying to get there as soon as I could.
And not too much longer after that you were playing in the World Series.
Yes. Fast forward a couple years to 2016. The next year was my breakout season. I established myself as an everyday player and that was the first year that we lost to the Houston Astros in the World Series.
But the Dodgers eventually prevailed.
Yes. In 2017, we lost to the Astros. In 2018, we lost to the Boston Red Sox. In 2019, we lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Washington Nationals, who went on to win the World Series that year. Three years in a row we lost to the world champs, but this past year was the year we finally got our rhythm up and won.
That must have been pretty incredible.
Yeah, it was awesome. It was such a weird year with a lot of ups and downs. The month of October in the bubble felt like it sucked a few years off my life. It felt like there was no escape. Usually during the post season, you at least are able to get out and go home and take your mind off the pressure. But last year, we were all in that bubble. When you go back to playing, your mind is not necessarily on the game. There’s nothing to do. It was a different experience. Hopefully it’s something we’ll never have to do again. It turned out for the best though. It was great to finally win the last game of the season. It was a huge weight off our backs after coming up short the last few years when we felt like we had the best team.
There was a bobble in the outfield during Game 4 of the World Series that allowed the Tampa Bay Rays to tie the series up. What was going through your mind at that point?
When I bobbled it, I was like pretty much, “oh sh*t.” But I knew the guy from first base shouldn’t be able to score anyway. As long as I get it in to the cutoff man, it should be okay. And the whole sequence of events…it was more shock when it happened. The clubhouse was pretty down after the game. Everybody had to let it sink in and just deal with it. But yeah, that was an awful night.
How did you bounce back from that?
The next day we had a group text with the team and that was something that definitely helped throughout the post season. Guys were saying words of encouragement and other motivating things that made going to the ballpark every day, especially after tough losses like that, better. It motivated us and made us feel confident that we were going to win that day. And I really think without that group text we might not have come back from that 3-1 deficit against the Atlanta Braves in the playoffs, then win three in a row to beat the Rays in the Series.
You mentioned the bubble in October that was mandated because of the COVID-19 virus. What is it like playing without fans?
At first it almost felt like practice games. Early on we felt like we had to create a little more energy in the dugout and be a little more vocal. I think the weirdest part was those big moments when somebody did something great and then there was just dead silence from the stands. When somebody hit a go-ahead homerun or a walk-off homerun and it’s dead quiet, it doesn’t feel quite the same. In the bubble, they eventually did allow some fans which helped create that playoff atmosphere. It was still not what it would be typically but more than what we had gotten used to. With the bubble, I think the biggest difference is it felt like there was no escape. It was mentally draining to be in that high-stress environment for a month straight. The playoffs are always stressful, but it’s a lot nicer when you can go to your own home and sleep in your own bed. If you have an off day, you just go off by the beach and have that escape, but we didn’t have that. We were stuck in the bubble the whole time. The opposing team was in there with us, which was another weird thing. I think it kind of weighed on us a little bit. For me, individually, I was grinding in the post season. I wasn’t exactly feeling great and I think all of that just added to it.
Hopefully the pandemic won’t be an issue going into the next season.
We’re supposed to start on time. From what I understand, most of the protocols are going to be very similar to last year, at least at the start of the season. It’s going to be a long year. I’m hoping there aren’t going to be any setbacks or delays or anything and we can open things up a little bit as the year progresses. I imagine there will be fans. I don’t know if it’ll be from opening day or maybe only in some parks, but hopefully by the end of the year things will be close to back to normal.
And then you can win another World Series.
Getting back to your earlier days, UVA is the only college baseball program in the country to be represented in the last five World Series. What is it about their program that generates such greatness? Or are they just really great at recruiting?
I think it’s a combination. I think they recruit the right players that fit their program. They recruit guys that want to compete at the highest level. When I went there, I was one of five or six shortstops in my class, so I knew I was going to have to earn every bit of playing time. I think when you go to an environment like that it makes everybody better. When you’re practicing against players that are better than you are, it’s going to make you better and it’s going to make you work harder. The coaches there do a great job at preparing guys not only for the next level of baseball but the next level in life. They help guys grow up and become men. They do a great job of holding their guys accountable. The coaches run a tight ship, they’ve had great success at the college level and their guys have gone on to have success in pro ball. So, they’ve done a great job there.
You’re the sixth former Wahoo to win a World Series title and the first UVA player to play in both the college and in the MLB championships. In addition, you were named to the UVA Baseball Hall of Fame last January. What has led to your success personally?
As I just mentioned, the biggest factor has been the level of competition and competing against my own teammates at every level. In college, competing against guys that were better than I was and knowing I had to work much harder to get on the field. In pro ball, it’s the same thing. You’re competing against guys on your own team and you’re fighting for playing time. But I’ve started taking it one step at a time throughout the entire process. Each step of the way I’ve focused on trying to succeed wherever I was and trying to get to that next step. I’d say that’s how I got to where I am now.
Sounds like it takes a lot of real mental toughness.
I think you just have to simplify things as much as you can. If you look too far ahead it can be overwhelming. So, you just have to take it in stride and understand that your failures are eventually going to make you better in the long run and not get too down on yourself. There are a lot of downs in this game. As they say, it’s a game of failure, so I think so much of it is how you respond to it.