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.


Univerity of Whitewater - Warhawks

Dear fellow coaches,

Let me introduce myself.

I'm Ignace Peeters, coaching the Junior team at Brasschaat Braves. I'm coaching since 2006, small teams, children between 6 to 14 years old.

There are various reasons why I entered this program:

By attending various clinics, EBCA, ECC, local clinics, following the winter program and actively participating into the VBSLs summer program, I realised that there is more to baseball then meets the eye. Becoming a good coach is only possible if you listen and learn from other great coaches, attending clinics – in short: by educating yourself – even if you have played the game yourself.

In recent years, we Europeans are trying to overcome our deficiency with respect to the US, e.g. we may have different views on pitching (Steven Janssens pitching program in The Netherlands (being used in Belgium as well) differs from the classical US programs), and we are maybe more into the motor learning (e.g. Frans Bosch).

Anyhow the sport is still evolving and thus it is necessary to exchange information. It's not about right or wrong, it is about player development.

So how will me two week program look like?

First couple of days, I'll be at the University of Wisconsin- Whitewater located in Whitewater, Wisconsin. There I will meet John Vodenlich's team. Later that week we'll all leave for Spring Training in Florida – 11 games in 8 days. Upon our return, I hope to see the team's first double header in Wisconsin, and then I'll be heading home.

You're welcome to join me on the next days. I'll try to keep you posted when interesting things happen.

Arrival – day 1

OK, I've survived the flight from Brussels to Chicago, past through customs (apparently not an easy job) and I'm picked up by assistant coach Justin Bach. This is my first time in the US, so eyes wide open.
We drive directly to Milwaukee Miller Stadium, where we grab a bite to eat and drink a Stella (Belgian beer :-) ). It's here where I later meet John Vodenlich and some other assistant coaches (and there wives). The welcome is warm and spontaneous – I feel at home.

Day 2 – practice

Practice start in the afternoon, around 3pm. The player are already warmed up when we arrive, had their swings into the batting cage. The – Miller stadium – is a well organised facility. Providing everything players and coaches need.
The infield is Astro Turf, the outfield grass.
The team has a scrimmage, they are preparing themselves for the Florida trip.

Day 3 – baseball camp

Today there is a baseball camp. The camp is organised in 3 sessions: throwing session, hitting session and fielding session. At its peak, a merely 120 children will be attending. Wow.

What strikes me:
  • the organisation, flawless – every college player is assigned a station – knows what to do, how to explain it and fixed things. The stations take about 8 minutes
  • the children – no fooling around, working to become a better baseball player. These guys they want it.

The camp provides us also the opportunity to get to know the players – great guys, all of them. This is a great team, disciplined, focused. I'm convinced that this team can achieve a lot.

Throwing and hitting is indoor, the fielding drill are performed on the football field (closer to the gymnasium than the baseball field). It's good to be outside – the weather is nice.

Day 4 – practice

Coach John drops me off at the baseball field where I meet Justin. Justin is in charge of the field maintenance. We fix a couple of things around the field – just having a good time.
At 3:45 pm, practice starts, today we do defence, outfield, infield, bunting, etc. We are ready for Florida.
Tomorrow, is a day off for the team.

Day 5 – a day off

OK, there are still things to do – e.g. getting ready for Florida – so we pack our things and go to bed early – we'll be leaving around 3:00 am.

Day 6 – Florida trip travel day

Getting up early, This day we'll travel to the sunshine state. It will mostly be planes trains and auto-mobiles today.
In the evening – starting 18h00 we have our latest practice. Tomorrow we go live.

Day 7 – First game

Today we play one gaim against Framingam State
We take an early lead by two runs. But then, I don not know what happened, defence starts to struggle, no more hits, we get down 10 to 2. However the team fights back and we win the game with 12 to 11 in an impressive 8 and 9th inning.

Day 8 – Warm...

Two games today. We play Patterson and Rowan; expectations are high.

The game against William Paterson is a totally different game as the game on March 19th.. Everything works – maybe not as smooth as we want, but we win the game in 7 innings by 22 to 1. The next game will shed more light on how strong this team is.

In the afternoon we play Rowan. This is a tough game. We get behind on the score as the umpire makes multiple 'bad' call. This shines of on the players and we start to fight our self. We can never get a grip on the game – we lose 9 to 3. Work to be done – hopefully a good nights rest will bring new energy to these guys.

Day 9 – Even warmer

Rise and shine at 6h30, we have a double header, one against Rowan, the other against Rutgers-Camden.
Although early on the field – game starts at 10h00, the Floridian sun burns. We play at the old Cleveland Indians main filed. The stadium is nostalgic. We start the game against Rowan with high hopes. We lead early with two runs. Around inning 5, Camden evens at the runs, 4-4. We put on a fight and maintain a lead, though close. We enter the ninth inning 9 to 8 – having the lead, but we are visiting team, so this may get exciting. Nompleggi closes the game – you can see the relieve on the player's faces.

The second game against Rutgers-Camden is played on field 4 of the Chain Lake baseball complex at 15h00. Rutgers-Camden starting pitcher, struggles in the first two innings, but then find his pace. He knows the throw a nice curve-ball which gets some outs on our side. We fight and are able to build steadily a lead. This game also ends as an 7-innings game – 8 to 7.

Day 10 – Lake Myrtle

This is an impressive complex, with a number of sport field. I counted at least 4 quality baseball fields. The dug-outs are spacious, bull pen and batting cages are very nice.
One single game today. The opponent is North Central (Ill).

Again the starting pitcher gives us a hard time. They score in the first inning and have a small lead, 1 to 0. We score in the second and the game remains close until the 7th inning. Adding two runs provides us the lead of 3-1. Then all hell brakes loose in the 8th and 9th inning, North Central ties the game. In the 10th extra inning we build a lead of two runs on a deep left field hit from Kuhmann.

Day 11 – A day off

So no game today. So I take the opportunity to go and see NY Yankees @ Washington Nationals in Space Coast Stadium. The weather is rainy but anyhow, it's a great day to play.
The game is on at 1:05 pm.

Although 3 home runs from the Yankees, the Nationals win. Yankees 7, Nationals 8.

Day 12 – Cloudy and cool

We play only one game today against Elmhurst,Ill at Lake Myrtle. Solid pitching and 6 runs in the second inning give us the confidence that this game is our game. Elmhurst fights back but can not score the runs they hope for. Warhawks win with 7 to 3.

Day 13 – Interesting day

This should be an interesting day as the Warhawks play one of their biggest opponents St Thomas, Minn. in a double header.
The first innings the battle is equal, until St Thomas changes pitchers. Warhawks score 5 runs in the 5th inning and an other amazing 11 runs in the 6th inning. They 7 inning game ends with another win for the Warhawks, Warhawks 16, St Thomas 5.

Day 14 – Last day in Floriday

This is our last day in Florida. One more game and we fly back to Wisconsin. Temperature is up again to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. A unknown team to the Warhawks, Keuka N.Y. faces us in this last game. First inning is already defining and and puts Keuka under pressure, 6 runs. Then the game slows down as other pitchers from Keuka try to hold Warhawks of the bases. Warhawks score another 3 runs in the 4th inning and a couple more runs later in the game. Warhawks 11, Keuka 3.

Spring training recap

I've seen this team grow in a couple of days from a good team to a better team. They are well prepared for the upcoming season. Spring training proves that playing a lot of games really helps you improve in a short time.

Day 15 – Field preparation

The team is put at work to make the final preparations for the start of the season. Small things around the field are cleaned up.

Day 16 – Game day @ Ripon

Due to low temperatures 36 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees C) the game is cancelled. A pity as I would have like to see their first expected win of the official season.

Day 17 – Signing off.

Flying home, signing off. This was a great experience. I got to meet great baseball teams, players, coaches, umpires, and others people. This experience will remain with me for the remainder of my life.