NASHVILLE, Tenn. — It’s been a long, long time since the Vanderbilt baseball team was able to compete at Hawkins Field – or any field for that matter – as one whole unit.
That changes this weekend.
“We’re just so excited,” senior outfielder Cooper Davis said. “We are so lucky to even be training this fall. We had no idea this was even going to be possible and to think we’re about to play a Black and Gold series this weekend is surreal for a lot of us.
“I’m just so lucky I get to spend (my) last weekend of Black and Gold with my teammates and get to play and compete and enjoy these times which is something that a lot of people are missing out on.”
Davis and the Commodores will play the program’s annual Black and Gold World Series starting with a nine-inning game at 6 p.m. Friday. A first pitch of 1 p.m. is scheduled for both Saturday and Sunday.
Vandy has been divided into the Black Team (captained by Davis) and the Gold Team (captained by senior infielder Jayson Gonzalez) and those sides will compete for no less than seven innings Saturday and Sunday after Friday night’s affair.
“Just playing in an environment that’s ramped-up a little bit,” Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin said about the series. “I’m happy they’ll get that experience – we’ll turn on the lights and do a lot of the pregame activities that we do. I’m looking forward to watching them in that environment.”
Corbin last saw his team on the diamond March 11 when it beat Toledo 11-2 at Hawkins Field. The ensuing weekend series against visiting Kentucky was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic – then the rest of the 2020 season was called off as well.
The Commodores weren’t afforded the chance to win a second straight Southeastern Conference title or national championship. The summer months posed challenges as well as many student-athletes stayed isolated and didn’t have the opportunity to participate in traditional summer leagues.
In many respects that changed the way fall training looked these past few weeks.
“I think they were very anxious to get back here, No. 1,” Corbin said. “Once they got here, they wanted to get on the field right away, which was good. Getting them back into training, that took a couple weeks. We didn’t have that rhythm that a lot of teams have coming after a full summer of summer ball and after a full season have. I just felt it took us a little bit longer to get back into choreographed training seasons where they looked decent.”
𝐑𝐨𝐬𝐭𝐞𝐫𝐬 𝐚𝐫𝐞 𝐬𝐞𝐭.
— Vanderbilt Baseball (@VandyBoys) October 16, 2020
While Corbin has a large number of newcomers waiting to make an official Vandy debut, the list of familiar names isn’t short.
Davis, Tate Kolwyck, Isaiah Thomas, Dominic Keegan, Jack Leiter, Kumar Rocker and Hugh Fisher are among the veterans expected to coax the younger student-athletes along in 2020-21. Rocker and Leiter are at the forefront of what promises to be another dominant rotation.
“The pitching staff is always good here,” Rocker said. “We have a sophomore class that’s really refined and really improved themselves already from (velocity) to stuff to command. I think you’re going to see a lot of good pitchers rolled out this year that their names are going to be known for sure.”
Vanderbilt’s offensive prowess remains to be seen. The 2020 lineup only got to play 18 games and some of the pieces from that lineup are still inexperienced in the scope of never having faced an SEC opponent.
Davis said he’s confident in the Commodores’ ability to be a fast baseball team and that time will tell what sort of run production will develop. Much of that development will come via on-field experience.
“I think it’s actually really interesting that we have a large group of juniors, a large group of sophomores that can kind come together,” Davis said. “There’s going to be a learning curve for a lot of kids that haven’t played in the SEC, but we have seniors who have played in the SEC before.
“We’ll bounce back for sure and come together with those experiences.”
All of this weekend’s contests are closed to the public, but will include an audio broadcast live on VUCommodores.com. Sunday’s game will air live on local radio stations (560Am / 959Fm / 1079FM Smyrna / 1039FM Drakesboro KY). Updates will be posted on VUCommodores.com and Vanderbilt baseball’s Twitter and Instagram pages as well.
“Always, at the end of fall, you see something that you haven’t seen yet,” Corbin said. “So I’m looking forward for that surprise moment – whatever it may be.”
Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for VUCommodores.com. Follow him @MrChadBishop.