Vanderbilt wins the 2014 College World Series—a great moment for the university and a great moment for Nashville. But this championship deserves special context because it has special meaning, meaning far above and beyond just that of winning a championship.
This win means the world to so many people. Being a Vanderbilt fan, it is something that cannot be understood. The true difficulty in being a Vanderbilt fan can never be completely understood unless you have lived it. Supporting Vanderbilt has always been the hard road, not to mention the road less traveled.
When Tim Corbin arrived as coach in 2003, Vandy Baseball was at the absolute bottom. There had been no NCAA Tournament since 1982, no SEC Tournament since they had eliminated the division tournaments in the ‘90s, no fans, and no facilities. The old field was nowhere close to SEC standards. It was uneven, poorly maintained, and like the program itself, unloved. It was surrounded by a chain link fence. There was no press box either. But there was a black and gold painted trailer affixed to the top of the third base dugout, completely full of dents from baseballs hitting it either in games or practices, either intentionally or not. The tables inside were built from odds and ends, and the seats were lumpy if not broken.
The story has been widely told of Corbin’s first game—that cold and rainy afternoon where turnout was so sparse that Tim’s wife, Maggie, thought she had the game time wrong. I can personally vouch for that story, as on most afternoons in those days, I was there. You could hear chatter every game, both intended for public discourse and that never intended to be heard. The place had no charm and certainly no advantage for the home team.
But the university community wanted better. Along with other sports, baseball was made a priority. David Williams was the catalyst, hiring Corbin from Clemson. Esteemed letter winner and alum Charles Hawkins invested in the program, wanting to see his school play in a more proper setting. His gift and tireless efforts became Hawkins Field, a beautiful monument to a beautiful man. Those resources, and Corbin’s managerial and recruiting genius, changed the culture.
However, the fulcrum in this turnaround occurred at the end of Corbin’s first season. Tennessee came to town needing only one win to advance to the following week’s SEC Tournament. Vanderbilt needed a sweep. Coming against Sunday curfew and a severe thunderstorm on what was to be the game’s final pitch regardless of outcome, light-hitting Worth Scott’s homerun down the right-field line (off future #1 overall pick Luke Hochevar) completed that unlikely sweep and sent the Commodores to the SEC Tournament. The following season, Vanderbilt returned to the NCAA Tournament and upset Virginia en route to their first Super Regional. Though they fell to eventual champion Texas, the foundation was built.
The story of the 2014 National Champions is an inspiring one—one even more inspiring to know where they have come from. Vanderbilt fans during those lean times savor this all the more. Every so often someone somewhere will write a column or say in an interview, words to the effect of questioning Vanderbilt’s worthiness for the SEC and their worth in it. Those questions can never be asked again. Vanderbilt is now a member of that exclusive club. For those of us there in the trailer days, it is the sweetest victory there could ever be.