The Reason for the Ribbon: How UVA Baseball Rallied to Support Their Own

June 13, 2024 By Andrew Ramspacher, fpa5up@virginia.edu Andrew Ramspacher, fpa5up@virginia.edu

On the day the University of Virginia baseball team opened the 2024 season with a 10-8 win over Hofstra, one member of the Cavaliers suffered a significant loss.

Aaron Buchanan, the father of junior pitcher Matthew Buchanan, died on Feb. 16 at the UVA Medical Center after a two-month battle with pancreatic cancer. Matthew was among those by his dad’s side when he passed.

Consumed for a long while by the raw emotions of the moment, Matthew eventually had it in him to check in on his team. He pulled up video of the UVA game and soon noticed what the Wahoos were sporting on the side of their hats.

“I saw the ribbons,” he said, “and … tears, I just started crying again.”

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It's closer than you think. University of Virginia Northern Virginia
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Virginia returns to the College World Series this Father’s Day weekend, playing in front of more than 24,000 at Charles Schwab Field in Omaha, Nebraska, with another million-plus watching on ESPN.

Matthew’s father, Aaron, with his arm around Matthew

Matthew’s father, Aaron, was his son’s biggest fan, often traveling from their hometown of Lebanon in the family RV to attend UVA baseball games. (Contributed photo)

Spectators new and old might spot how this season’s Hoos mix a different color into their traditional navy, orange and white uniforms. That intersecting piece of silk fabric that’s pinned to their caps is a pale shade of purple, representing Aaron Buchanan and his fight with pancreatic cancer.

The ribbon is also there as a constant reminder to Matthew Buchanan of the overwhelming support he’s received over these trying six months.

“What the team has done to show love has been over the top and out of this world,” Buchanan said. “I can’t be more grateful. I love every single one of these guys.”

The acts of comfort have come in both public and private settings.

UVA head coach Brian O’Connor, who spent the morning of Feb. 16 in the hospital with the Buchanan family, arranged with Old Dominion University coach Chris Finwood to have the UVA-ODU game on Feb. 20 moved back a day so the entire Cavalier team could make the four-hour bus ride to Lebanon and attend the viewing service for Aaron.

 

 

“It was something that we all really wanted to do,” said junior shortstop Griff O’Ferrall, who came to UVA in the same recruiting class as Buchanan. “We wanted to show we were there for him regardless of how far of a trip it was or that it was in the middle of the week. We didn’t care, we just wanted him to know we were there for him and that he wasn’t going to go through that alone.”

A month before Aaron’s passing, UVA assistant coach Matt Kirby took Matthew out to dinner at The Local, a restaurant in Charlottesville’s Belmont neighborhood.

The conversation was less about baseball and more about life. On one side of the table was Kirby, who lost his father to lung cancer on Oct. 1, 2021, and on the other side was Buchanan, who was coming to grips with the reality of losing his. 

“I talked to him about my experience,” Kirby said. “I told him, ‘Hey, I’m here for you. Do whatever you need to do and know that it’s OK to cry, it’s OK to let loose about this whole thing.’

“I told him how I did it my own way. (The emotions) would come to me when I was cutting grass because it brought me back to working with my dad.”

Buchanan will never forget that evening as Kirby has become, in his words, a “crutch to lean on.”

Last Saturday, after the Cavaliers beat Kansas State to advance to the College World Series, Buchanan and Kirby shared an emotional hug between third base and the pitcher’s mound at Disharoon Park. Kirby told Buchanan that he loved him and, “They’re here with us.”

New to the UVA dugout this postseason is a shirt hanging in plain view that reads “Papa’s in the House.” Kirby’s father, Carroll, was “Papa” to his grandchildren. Kirby’s mother, Beverly, recently had the shirts made for her son coaching in the NCAA baseball tournament and her granddaughter playing in the high school softball state championship. 

UVA assistant coach Matt Kirby, who lost his father in October of 2021, has been by Buchanan’s side through the last six months. Like he did after Buchanan was presented with the Craig Fielder Memorial Award for overcoming adversity in May, Kirby embraced Buchanan again last Saturday after the Cavaliers clinched a spot in the College World Series.

UVA assistant coach Matt Kirby, who lost his father in October of 2021, has been by Buchanan’s side through the last six months. Like he did after Buchanan was presented with the Craig Fielder Memorial Award for overcoming adversity in May, Kirby embraced Buchanan again last Saturday after the Cavaliers clinched a spot in the College World Series. (UVA Athletics photo)

Kirby, through a necklace he wears under his jersey that bears his dad’s fingerprint, has long felt his father’s presence at a ballpark. The shirt offers another sign.

Matthew Buchanan honors Aaron, a man of deep faith, through a wooden cross from his home church that he keeps in his locker and baseball bag. Matthew also marks a few prayers and messages – like “I love you, Dad” – on the inside of his hats. 

“He’s been with me through every single game this year,” said Buchanan, who graduated last month with a sociology degree. “Honestly, if he wasn’t, I don’t know how I would have done it.” 

Having a support system like UVA baseball helps. 

“Coach O’Connor, the way he leads his team and the guys that he brings in here are nothing short of amazing,” Buchanan said. “They’ve treated me like absolute gold, and I’m so thankful for them.”