NASHVILLE, Tenn. — For many, Hawkins Field is considered a field of dreams.
And for Drew Baxley, his dreams of being an integral part of Vanderbilt baseball had come true.
Then that dream was suddenly snatched away.
“It’s sad,” Baxley said. “I absolutely built a lot of strong friendships on the team and was excited to get to enjoy those as we got into SEC play and made more memories as we traveled around.
“It was tough for the first couple of days just kind of realizing all that had kind of crashed down, but since then I can only be grateful because everyone I know has been healthy and my family, financially, wasn’t hit by most of the stuff too bad. I think for the circumstances you got to be grateful, but it’s absolutely tough to see it cut short.”
Baxley came to Nashville via Dallas and the St. Mark’s School of Texas. He played football and baseball during his high school days, but athletics wasn’t to be a major part of his college experience – outside of being a fan.
He considered Virginia, Stanford and North Carolina as a high school upperclassmen only to find nothing matched Vanderbilt’s academics and athletics culture. The institution on West End turned out to be the only college he applied to.
Baxley played on Vanderbilt’s club baseball team to keep the baseball juices flowing. By the time his junior year rolled around he hung up the cleats to focus on his neuroscience major which required preparing for the Medical College Admission Test and courses in biochemistry.
But it was as if he could hear the ping of the bats ringing through campus louder than most.
“Then the team makes this amazing run and I end up going to almost all the games, became just a huge fan watching that historic team last year,” Baxley said. “Then they sent out an email to the whole student body saying they were looking for managers and I thought, ‘Heck, I’ve done most the hard work for med school as far as setting myself up to apply, might as well go for it.’
“So I interviewed last April and they let me know in August and I was like, ‘Alright, this is what I’m doing senior year.’ ”
Baxley joined Vanderbilt baseball in the fall as one of four student managers. He suddenly found himself in the classroom with student-athletes he had marveled at just months before and was taking instructions from Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin.
Admittedly starstruck for a bit during the first few weeks, Baxley quickly felt part of the team. When senior catcher Ty Duvall invited Baxley to hang out with the guys on a Friday night, Baxley began to truly feel like a member of the program.
He learned that those who were lauded for their efforts on the field took notice of Baxley’s efforts off of it.
“(Baxley) is a remarkable kid,” Vanderbilt senior second baseman Harrison Ray said. “The workload that he has and he still wanted to do this and excelled at this? It was just like, ‘Wow, the kid’s really got it together.’
“He’s always happy when he’s at the field. It was fun to see and definitely refreshing.”
Vanderbilt beat Toledo 11-2 on March 11 at Hawkins Field. Within 24 hours the 2020 college baseball season had been suspended. Days later it was canceled entirely due to the global pandemic of COVID-19.
Baxley said he and the team tried to spend as much time together before the inevitable – that being a team meeting in which an emotional Corbin told the squad it was all over. Just like that, Baxley’s hopes of being in the dugout for another memorable season of Vanderbilt baseball had been vanquished.
“He’s got great qualities,” Corbin said. “Just a mature young man, he’s appropriate, shows up with the same mood every day – I guess that really shouldn’t be a surprise for a kid who is a neuroscience major. But he was just so appreciative of his position, so respectful of it and carried a general love for the opportunity that he had.
“Because of his appreciation for the program it made the players and the staff love and respect him even more. I told him on many occasions if I ever need surgery I going to want him to do it. I just can’t imagine this young man not being successful. We were very lucky to find Andrew Baxley.”
The Journal of Neuroscience published an article in June detailing addiction research on mice. Baxley is one of the abstract’s four authors.
In the fall Baxley plans to start his medical studies at McGovern Medical School in Houston, Texas (although he’s on the waiting list at Baylor and Texas Southwestern Medical Center as well). It’s back in Texas that Baxley will once again be relegated to cheering on the Commodores from afar instead of being right there alongside them.
But he’ll always be a part of the team.
“I think you hear a lot – when they talk to the pro guys who come back, they always talk about this Vanderbilt brotherhood that kind of exists on into perpetuity,” Baxley said. “I would say that that brotherhood is very much real and I think it exists because of the top-down leadership from coach Corbin and the way that they have fostered a community of family around the place.
“So I think if you’re a baseball fan you should be a fan of Vanderbilt baseball because the way they run the program is right and we play at a high level because of the investment the guys have both in the game and in each other. That’s been the coolest part to see.”