Vanderbilt University - Baseball - Part 1

The baseball at Vanderbilt is incredible.

This year, out of 37 players, they have 13 freshmen who are ranked the top recruiting class in the country. It is the fourth time the Commodores have led the rankings during a record 11-year streak of Top 25 classes.

So, yes, it's fair to expect the talent displayed on the field to be a bit better than the norm.

I have seen 17 pitchers. Only possibly 3 or 4 of those are NOT clocked in the 90s with freshman Donny Everett who has reportedly been clocked at 100 mph last year, in high school.

 During the first few days, the team only practiced. During the first week-end, they started to play intrasquad games, with a length depending on how many pitchers are available on a certain day.

Usually, the players do something before the actual start of the practice, on their own.
Position players, for the most part, have developped their own hitting routines.

For one of the catchers, it's mostly tee work, drills to stay short and compact, for one of the infielders, short bat and front toss, for one of the outfielders, it's straight to the Iron Mike pitching machine.

It's not just random work. It's preparation. It's some degree of freedom and/or individualization.
You don't hear guys joking, goofing around. They get their work done, with a purpose.

Before the start of the team practice, the team and all the staff meets in the classroom.
That meeting usually lasts for about 30 minutes.

Coach Corbin introduces the potential guests of the day (possible recruits, visiting coaches,...) then starts the actual meeting.

Then, topics vary from weigth management, nutrition and hydration to adopting the Vanderbilt attitude to game strategy, MLB plays analysis to a lot of different matters.
Of course, there is always a part of the description of what is coming next, on the field.

Everybody knows what to do and when to do it before getting into practice.


Vanderbilt University - Family

* I originally named this post "Staff". I decided to change it to "Family" when I was almost done because it fits better.

Everybody has been extremely welcoming at Vanderbilt.

While Tim Corbin is the name that most of us know better, Vanderbilt Babseball program is much more than one man, no matter how good he can be.

Let's start with the coaching staff.

Of course, since 14 years, Tim Corbin is the head coach of the Commodores baseball team.
Under his watch, Vanderbilt has a 567-271 record (,677 winning percentage).
Coach Corbin is soft-spoken. He doesn't yell, is a pretty positive but demanding person.
When he talks, people listen. He doesn't have to ask anything to anyone, it's the way it is.
He has some really smart and inspiring ways to lead. 

One of the strengths of coach Corbin, is his ability to surround himself with the right persons.
I received the privilege to witness the coaches meetings, and I have really seen a great team work and a group of people who are taking nothing for granted.

Travis Jewett (left) and Tim Corbin (right) during a coaches meeting

I'll introduce the rest of the staff with what the program is renowned for. The pitchers.

After the departure of Derek Johnson as a Minor League pitching coordinator to the Cubs, then St-John's pitching coach Scott Brown got hired by coach Corbin.
Scott enters his 4th year as a pitching coach and continued the tradition of great pitching at Vanderbilt. He coached Sonny Gray in his final year with the program, he coached Carson Fulmer, Tyler Beede, Walker Buehler, all first round draft picks over the last 2 years.
The number of team strike-outs and ERA (2 straight season team ERA under3,00) have been unprecedented.
If you have a chance to read his bio, please do, it's ridiculous what has been accomplished in just a few years.
As I'm mostly interested in pitching, being around him for those 2 weeks was a real blessing.

The hitting coach of the team is Travis Jewett, who is also entering his 4th year at Vandy.
For those who attended the last ABCA convention in Orlando, you will remember the brilliant lecture he did on hitting. We would sure like to add him to the EBCA Convention line-up some day.
Travis is much more then a hitting coach. He takes care of most of the baserunning drills, first base and outfield play and gets very involved in team offense and some defense too.
Travis is also bringing a lot (I mean A LOT) of energy to the field.
Volunteer assistant Coach Blake Allen (Left) and pitching coach Scott Brown (right) during a coaches meeting.

Blake Allen is the 4th coach on the staff. He just came back last year at Vanderbilt.
The main task of Blake is to take care of the catchers.
He had a 4-year stint at Vanderbilt before moving to Western Kentucky University for 7 years.
He was the hitting coach at first, then took the pitching coach job, having several draftees under his tutelage over those years.
On top of his work with the catchers, Blake helps mostly with the hitters but goes wherever he is needed on a certain day. I would say, he has the more freedom of all the staff.

Of course, the athleticism displayed on the field needs to be developed or at least maintained. That's where Chris Ham, the Baseball Strength and Conditioning coach comes into play.

Chris Ham, using his trainer background to work on soft tissues for one of the pitchers.

Chris has joined Vanderbilt 9 years ago. He was originally a trainer for 7 years before moving in his new role past season.As you see on the picture he also puts his trainer background to help with the recovery of the players.
Chris currently has an intern for the semester. His name is Eric and he helps out for the workouts. Not too bad of a place to intern, I think...

Tracy Campbell is the new athletic trainer, since 2015, after serving as the Commodores' football trainer the previous years.

Garret Walker is the equipment manager for the team. he is always in a good mood and gets people around in a good mood. During my stay in Nashville, coach Corbin gave him the stage in the classroom and he delivered a very strong speech about the Vanderbilt baseball family.

The team managers (Josh, Ben, Jack and Will) are students who are very much part of the team. Their duties consist in helping out Garret, and helping run the practice smoothly. They are the ones who get the field ready, machines, cones, set up before everything starts. 

They also help with practice and scrimmage stats and anything that can make the practice more efficient.
Most of them pursue a career in sports (agent, front office,...) and being part of such a program is a good start.

Finally, Keri and Drew, who are more doing mostly office work (at least when I was there).
Drew is the one person who helped me arrange all my trip. He was a catcher for the Commodores and has been directing baseball operations since then.

Let's not forget the players. Of course the athleticism of those players is off the charts. But they are also great persons

Of course, the fans, led by coach Corbin's wife, Maggie, a former college athlete (tennis) who attends to a lot of the practices and games.
I could have started upside down. No one makes himself feel more important than the other. Every member of the family knows his place and the group never misses a chance to reward the others for their work. The atmosphere is amazing and is a part of one of my next posts : Secret recipe. 

The fans start to gether for the first intersquad scrimmage of the Fall season.

There are fans (and scouts, probably) showing up for each session in the Fall... Find out why in the next post : Baseball


Vanderbilt University - Facilities - Part2

Behind the Green Monster, in left field, are the indoor batting cages.

Entrance to the building that holds the batting cages and the Weight room

The hitting room has 5 batting cages. Some have Iron Mike machines, some have 2-wheel machines and some have 3-wheel machines. There are also podiums in some of the cages to recreate the down angle of the balls.

The batting cages. Indoor pre-intersquad game, on a rainy day.

Overlooking the batting cages, the weight room.

The Power racks.
Not seen, against the other wall of the room, the Air-resisted machines, which are amazing.
The weight room isn't that big. It's nice but has little room for agility and med ball work.
Work that is done in the hallway or in the batting cages.

That, again, won't be a problem anymore next year as the batting level is planned to be moved down to allow the weight room to get a lot bigger.
The Dumbell area. At the very end, the Omaha challenge winners board.

A small group of players go through their foam roll routine

So, while I am sure there must be other college baseball programs with better facilities, I feel like Vanderbilt is a great place. Everything is done with a lot of class. Nothing crazy of flashy but everything beautiful and efficient.
And it keeps getting better every year because on and off the field, people are always looking to improve at Vanderbilt.


Vanderbilt University - Facilities - Part 1

I attended my first practice session on Tuesday September 22nd in the afternoon.
Drew Fann, the director of baseball operations at Vanderbilt and who helped me to organize this trip, takes me around the facilities.
Hawkins Fiels - Home of the Vanderbilt Commodores

As you can see on the pictures, it is gorgeous.
The football and baseball field are right by each other, separated only by a walkway.

The mounds from the pitching lab
Under the football stands, what they call the pitching lab. An underground room 30 to 35 meters long and about 15 meters wide.
The lab has a clay double mound. There is also a bunch of nets, and a couple of portable mounds.
It also features all small equipment and tools dedicated to pitching.

Players' locker
Drew takes me to the lockers. There are 3 lockers. The biggest one is for the players. It features a little room with sofas, TV and sound system. The coaches also have a small locker room at the same level. Then, the third locker room is reserved for the pros, who are coming back to work out in the offseason. Vanderbilt alumni are still very much part of the family.

The lounge room from the players' locker
The problem is that the coaches' locker is now a bit small and 2 staff members are using the pro locker. The second issue is that the pro locker was probably perfect when Tim Corbin took the helm of the program. Now, it's a bit different since this locker wouldn't hold the amount of pro players who graduated in a single year.

But as each problem has its solution, there will be some construction work done after the 2016 season.
Among other things, the pro locker will have the same size as the players' locker. 

On the first floor of this building are the baseball offices, the classroom (a key part of the program) and, what I call the walls of fame, that feature framed jerseys of the most notorious baseball alumni.

The classroom
The offices and the classroom are looking over left field.
Hawkins Field is all turf. All turf, yes. It includes the batter's box and more unusual, the brand new turf mound (which proved to be a game changer already during my stay).

Vanderbilt alumni David Price framed jersey

Left field is a bit shorter and features a big green wall, a la Fenway Park.

Just outside the playing surface, on the first and 3rd base sides of the field, are the bullpens. One double bullpen on each side, all turf.
Bullpen on 1st base side, with flat ground plates and home plates

The stands and bleachers have a capacity of 3700 and there is a press box behind home plate.


Vanderbilt University - Introduction

First of all, a little clarification. This experience doesn't exactly fall into the EBCA Exchange program category.

My name is Christophe Dassy, from Belgium. I am of course a baseball coach but I am also a board member of the EBCA since 2008. I have organized, with the precious help of the EBCA staff,  several exchanges for our members, connecting coaches in Europe (13 coaches, from 8 different countries, since 2011) with coaches in top programs around the globe.

We came close a few years ago to sending a coach to Vanderbilt but, mostly for financial reasons (the Vanderbilt exchange costing more for our coach than the deals we are usually providing), it eventually didn't happen. 

So Here I am, in Nashville, capital of Music and home of the Commodores baseball team.

While this is not typically an EBCA exchange I felt the need to post on this blog for a few reasons.

First, it is a reminder that we, EBCA, can connect our member coaches with programs abroad. 
Many of the coaches we sent over the world have built long time relationships with their hosts and some received the chance to go back several times.
All of these coaches have improved their skills and lived a great experience.

Then, it has been such an incredible experience that I want to let the world know about Vanderbilt University's baseball program. A first class organization that does things right.
I liked the program for a number of years already but I am now an unconditional fan.

Lastly, I feel like I can't be selfish and keep all the information for myself. Baseball is about sharing. The people at Vanderbilt shared a lot with me with hope to impact as many persons as possible. 
I'm now putting a first brick in trying to do my part of the deal.

My report will be split in a few sections:
  • Facilities
  • Staff
  • Baseball 
  • Commodores' Secret Recipe 

Last minute picture with Tim Corbin before he rushes to a charity dinner.
Terrible quality of picture, but still priceless.
Coach Corbin allows me (in red) to address and thank the staff and the players in the classroom.