Whether they’re in the seats at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, listening to Joe Fisher’s call on the radio, or watching on ESPN, Commodore fans will enjoy a special Father’s Day when the VandyBoys open the College World Series against Louisville.
For 1998 Vanderbilt alum and former baseball player Jimmy Dykes, the moment will be bittersweet. His family will celebrate the fact that his Commodores will join his brother Keith’s alma mater, Mississippi State, and his father Jim’s alma mater, Texas Tech, in Omaha. But they will mourn the loss of his father, who passed away after a nine-month battle with melanoma just two days after Kumar Rocker’s no-hitter and a day after the family’s three favorite schools qualified for the tournament.
Known as “Krazy Jim” to customers of his full-service Exxon station in Pensacola, Fla., the elder Dykes was a proud parent and grandfather who loved to spend time on his boat and attend minor league baseball games. When son Jimmy played ball at Vanderbilt in the mid-90s, Jim and his wife, Barbara, were fixtures in the stands, driving to virtually every Commodore game, home and away.
And in the days before high-definition video, camera phones, or even digital photography, Jim Dykes served as the unofficial Vanderbilt team photographer, toting his camera and zoom lens to all the games, not just to take pictures of his son but all the players. After watching a Vanderbilt series, he’d drive home to Pensacola, take his film to be processed, and then show up at the next weekend’s games to pass out his photos to players and their families.
Jimmy Dykes, an infielder who saw most of his time at second base, recalls it as a different era of Vandy baseball, before the arrival of Tim Corbin or the construction of Hawkins Field. Advancing even to the SEC Tournament, when the league’s top eight teams qualified, was an achievement worthy of celebration. But lifetime friendships were formed, memorable victories — such as a sweep of a Top-20 Florida team — never to be forgotten. While this year’s seniors play in memory of late teammate Donny Everett, Dykes says he’ll never forget the memory of teammate Mark Hindy, who was killed in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.
With his father’s memorial service taking place on Saturday, Dykes won’t be in Omaha, but he says his family will keep up with the Commodores, Bulldogs and Red Raiders. He recalls a visit with to Omaha in Vanderbilt’s second-ever CWS appearance, walking through the streets of the city with former teammates. The group would run into former Commodores from other eras, and gradually the group grew bigger and bigger.
Working in software in Atlanta, Dykes says he’s always been proud to tell people he once played baseball at Vanderbilt but admits the reactions have grown stronger from new acquaintances over the years.
“I told a guy the other day I played baseball at Vanderbilt and his jaw literally dropped like he was in the company of someone famous,” Dykes says. “I have a lot of pride in how much the program has grown.”
Still, Dykes knows no one would have been prouder to watch this year’s College World Series than his father, cheering on his three favorite teams. Instead, Dykes will eulogize his dad today, and on Father’s Day, when Vandy takes the field, he’ll drive home to Atlanta and listen on the radio. But not before displaying shirts representing the family’s three favorite teams, all competing in Omaha, in his parents’ house, just as his dad would have liked it.