NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tim Corbin likes to coach from the third-base coaching box during Vanderbilt games. The Commodores’ skipper enjoys the view, and lately, he has gotten the same feeling each time junior JJ Bleday has stepped to the plate.
“You certainly feel like something good is going to happen,” Corbin said.
Corbin’s gut feeling has held true during this recent stretch for the Dores. In fact, Bleday has proven to be one of the most dangerous hitters in the SEC. The junior from Panama City Beach, Florida has belted six home runs in his last six games heading into this weekend’s matchup with No. 4 Georgia in Athens. During that run, Bleday also drilled a homer in four consecutive games, becoming the first Commodores since Aaron Westlake in 2010 to achieve that feat.
Asked to assess his red-hot bat, Bleday just smiles and shrugs.
“Baseball is crazy,” he said. “It’s a crazy game. You can be locked-in sometimes, and others you’re kind of out of it. But I’d say it’s just trying to be consistent. I wouldn’t say you’re too crazy locked-in, you’re just confident. You can feel that. You’ve just got to treat every at-bat the same.”
Bleday’s surge has helped No. 5 Vanderbilt win eight of its last nine games and claim two series against SEC foes Florida and Tennessee. The right fielder has registered 14 RBIs in his last six games; in a win over Lipscomb on March 26, Bleday set new career-highs with five RBIs and a pair of home runs as he powered the Commodores’ offense.
On Tuesday against Western Kentucky, Vanderbilt bounced back from a Sunday loss to Tennessee thanks, in part, to Bleday’s heroics. The Dores walked off the Hilltoppers, 5-4, on a two-out, RBI-single in the 10th inning. The walk-off was the first for Vanderbilt since – who else? – Bleday cleared the center-field fence against Mississippi State to force a Game 3 in the 2018 NCAA Nashville Super Regionals.
Now Bleday embodies a sense of reliability as a veteran in Vanderbilt’s lineup.
“It’s special players who are able to do that,” Corbin said. “There’s consistent behaviors that are associated with people that behave that way on the field and have that type of consistency on the field. I certainly would say that about him.
“You talk about low-maintenance players — he’s about as low-maintenance as they come. He’s been very professional since the day he got in here. Nothing changes. He goes about his business the same way, and his personality never changes. He gets what he deserves. Most people do in this game. He gets a lot of consistency because he is that way.”
Bleday’s productivity in SEC play expects to raise his professional prospects. The First Team Preseason All-American has popped up as a high first-round pick in Major League Baseball mock drafts. But Bleday stiff-arms any draft talk, instead pointing to the Commodores’ own prospects in SEC play. Vanderbilt has won its last two SEC series against Florida and Tennessee since dropping its first conference tilt at Texas A&M last month. That challenge begins anew at 6 p.m. CT on Friday at No. 4 Georgia, the first of three games against the Bulldogs.
But no matter what lies ahead, Bleday plans to keep on swinging.
“It’s cool, you know,” said Bleday, whose 12 home runs lead all SEC players. “It just goes to show that hard work pays off. I did a lot of work this offseason in the weight room, trying to get stronger. I just tried to let it happen naturally.”