NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Vanderbilt baseball team is quite aware that every opponent it faces this season will set out with the same mission – beat the defending national champions.
But playing with a big target on their back won’t shake the Commodores. It’s something they’ve gotten used to over the years.
“You put this Star V on your chest and you’re going to have a target on your back. That’s a given,” Vanderbilt junior Austin Martin said. “Everyone wants to beat Vanderbilt. Regardless of what happened last year, that’s just the mentality that everybody has coming into our field and our facility.
“It doesn’t change anything. Our focus right now is how are we going to get better on a day-to-day basis. It’s all about our progression as a team and how we’re going to move.”
Vandy is coming off a historic season, a campaign that will go down as one of the best in college baseball history. Head coach Tim Corbin’s team won 59 games, an SEC regular season and tournament championship and a national title in 2019.
The process of turning the page over to the next chapter started in the fall. The process of going for a second straight national championship began Friday on the first day of training at Hawkins Field.
“I think it’s only normal that after the season’s over and they get back, there’s a celebratory phase that takes place because you want to honor the kids and the team that did it,” Corbin said on the transition from 2019 to 2020. “But at the same time, being able to separate your brain from that to getting on the field to say ‘OK, we’re moving to the ’20 season,’ I don’t really think it kicks in until the end of the fall and then certainly now.
“It does take time. You can’t ignore it. You have to talk about it because it’s real. I think we spend a significant time talking about it and how to handle those situations.”
Vanderbilt returns all sorts of big-time contributors from a season ago like Martin, Harrison Ray, Ty Duvall, Cooper Davis, Tyler Brown, Mason Hickman and Kumar Rocker – to name a few. And as always the program brought in an extremely-impressive crop of freshmen who will have an important impact on the 2020 campaign.
All that has equated to a preseason ranking of No. 1 or No. 2 in most every national poll.
“I just think it’s respect for the program and I’m grateful for that, for sure,” Corbin said of that honor. “But that’s for interest for the fans and so on and I realize why they’re out there, but for what we’re doing, it just doesn’t hold any value. You have to recognize that because of those situations you have to arm yourself with what’s coming because you can’t be naive.
“At the same time it’s really the controllables on the field and off the field that are the things that we value most and mean the most.”
Vandy has less than a month to prepare on the field for the 2020 opener against Michigan in Scottsdale, Arizona, at the MLB4 Collegiate Baseball Tournament. Until then Corbin and his staff will be looking to build depth, see who can play which positions, contract a lineup and a solidify a pitching rotation.
For the skipper in his 18th year on West End, that’s where the fun lies.
“I really enjoy it,” he said. “It’s really when we can be together as a group for the first time. Now it’s really being able to develop the team, develop the personality of the team. If we took these hours and the hours leading up to a game, for me personally, that’s the most fun. It’s the training the piece, it’s the training piece, it’s getting ready to build your team. That’s a lot of fun.”