There's wasn't a College World Series in 2020, but Tim Corbin went to Omaha anyway | Estes
You can take the coach out of the College World Series, but you can’t take the CWS out of …
Well, you get the idea.
To illustrate, though, let’s go back to the summer. The COVID-19 pandemic dealt Vanderbilt baseball coach Tim Corbin a rare travel opportunity. With a season canceled, no recruiting tasks and basically “nothing to do,” Corbin and his wife packed up and hit the road. It was “the first time I’d taken a non-baseball-related trip in my life,” he said.
They could have gone pretty much anywhere in the country.
They went to Omaha.
Not just Omaha, to be fair. There were other stops on the journey, but along the way was a day and a dinner in the city that's college baseball’s heartbeat, where Corbin’s Commodores had won a national championship the summer before.
“It was tough to see,” he said. “It was a dead town. There was nothing happening, just the antithesis of a live town when everything is really brewing when the College World Series takes place there. … It just kind of was another dark truth about where our country was at that point.”
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It has been almost 20 months since Vanderbilt beat Michigan to win the 2019 College World Series. Since then, the Commodores have played only 18 regular-season games heading into Sunday's weather-delayed season opener against Wright State. That’s how far they made it through the 2020 season before it was hastily called off by COVID-19 just before the start of Southeastern Conference play.
“Definitely heartbreaking to have to go through that,” said infielder Tate Kolwyck.
Since then, with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic last spring, we’ve experienced a full college football season in a pandemic and now basketball, too. Hasn’t been easy, but it has at least — more or less — been possible.
And now, finally, college baseball is almost back.
That’ll surely bring smiles for baseball fans at schools around the SEC and the nation, but not like it will at Vanderbilt.
The Commodores’ fanbase has endured continued struggles in football and men’s basketball without getting to enjoy its biggest point of pride, the sport in which Vanderbilt is truly a big-time, national powerhouse.
No other program at Vanderbilt feels like baseball.
And few college baseball programs anywhere feel like Vanderbilt.
“Baseball has been our marquee sport,” said athletics director Candice Lee, “and it's also been a wonderful way for us to engage with our fans. It's been exciting for our whole community. It's been really challenging not having it ... (and that) feels like an understatement.”
We’ll never know this for sure, but last season likely would have ended with Vanderbilt back in Omaha for a fifth College World Series trip in 10 years.
Those Commodores were loaded with talent. They usually are, though, and will be again in 2021. Returning star pitchers Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter figure to again set the table for success, though this looms as a season unlike any before it. That causes caution for Corbin.
The NCAA granted players a year of eligibility back for the 2020 season, meaning all teams will have larger rosters in 2021. And many opponents will have older rosters, including the first one on the schedule, Wright State.
“In most cases, that older team is more successful, and I think that’s the thing we’re going to fight,” Corbin said. “We’re just going to fight a lot of inexperience, because we don’t have a lot of players who have played in the SEC before. What that looks like when we go out? I’m not too sure.”
After all this time, it’ll just be good medicine to find out — to finally play ball.
All over the country. But especially at Vanderbilt.
“Once you get out on the field,” Corbin said, “it kind of remedies a lot of those thoughts that you might have about, ‘Is this going to happen?’ … (It’s) a season that these kids really deserve, and not just our kids. College baseball players in general.
“Because that was a tough pill to swallow.”
Reach Gentry Estes at email@example.com and on Twitter @Gentry_Estes.