JOE BIDDLE: Corbin’s Commodores reaching for the stars

JOE BIDDLE: Corbin's Commodores reaching for the stars (Image 1)

This is not Vanderbilt baseball coach Tim Corbin’s most talented team.

There is no David Price or Pedro Alvarez. There is no Sonny Gray or Mike Minor.

But this team has promises of winning the school’s first baseball national championship.

It still has games to play, including one Friday (2 p.m.) against Texas, a program with six national championship banners flying in Austin.

The Commodores need to win one game against Texas to advance to a best-of-three championship series that would be for all the marbles.

Tim Corbin never looks past the next batter, the next pitch. He has been burned before in what has been a bittersweet postseason history.

The one post-season game that will always stick in Corbin’s craw dates back to the 2007 regional final against Michigan. The game was played at Vanderbilt.

Current Tampa Bay ace and former Cy Young Award winner David Price came in from the bullpen to pitch on two days rest. He would throw 14 pitches that night, 11 of them strikes. It was the top of the 10th when Michigan freshman Adam Oaks stepped in to pinch-hit for the Wolverines, locked up in a 3-3 stalemate.

Oaks was hitting .188 for the season, had one career home run.

He was instructed to swing hard. He did.

He slammed a 3-1 fastball deep over the left-center field wall. I remember all the air leaving the stadium as a capacity crowd sat frozen in disbelief.

Corbin was one of them. After all, Oaks had once attended Corbin’s summer baseball camp.

“I just thought we were going to win again,’’ Corbin said afterwards. “I still think it’s a bad dream.’’

Price was devastated. It had been only the third home run hit off him that season. Vanderbilt’s 48-19 season came to a tearful ending.

The 2008 team is arguably Corbin’s best team. Pitchers Mike Minor, Casey Weathers and Price all went on to pitch in the Major Leagues. Pedro Alvarez is the Pirates’ third baseman. Shortstop Ryan Flaherty and Alex Fienberg could turn double plays in their sleep. Flaherty is currently a Baltimore utility infielder.

But they lost twice to Oklahoma in the regionals in Tempe. The Sooners won on a two run homer in the bottom of the ninth. After losing in the Super Regional to Florida State in 2010, it was the second one-run loss that Corbin found hard to swallow.

“One thing about college baseball is the end is the end,’’ he said then. “Baseball is a cruel sport in the fact that once it ends, you may not see your kids again.’’

So, will Lady Luck be with the current crop of Commodores?

It is a team that to this point has filled the requirements teams need to win championships.

It hasn’t always been pretty, but the postseason has found the Commodores not only getting deep, solid pitching and sharp defense, but their bats have come alive the last part of the season.

In eight playoff games, the Commodores have won with clutch hitting. They have scored 59 runs, averaging 7.37 runs a game. In the College World Series they picked up two wins by scoring five and six runs in a park that is as hard to hit home runs in as Yellowstone.

That’s the beauty of Corbin. He loves small ball, but won’t shun those double figure scores at all.

His pitching staff and three days off since their last game place the Commodores in as perfect a situation as baseball allows. If their bats stay hot, they can win it all.

Some of college baseball’s annual heavyweights are not in Omaha this summer. Texas is the biggest name, having played in 33 College World Series. The Longhorns own six national championships, second only to Southern Cal’s dozen.

Legendary Texas coach Augie Garrido is the winningest coach in NCAA history.

If Vanderbilt can win one game against Texas, only one team will stand in their way.

Tim Corbin will be the last one to count his chickens.

Contact Sports Columnist Joe Biddle at

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