Baseball: Commodore Composure

The Vanderbilt baseball team is currently the portrait of complete psychological ownership of baseball. Since baseball is the most frustrating sport human beings have ever devised, that's saying something... it says a lot about the journey this program has made, and how well this team is competing.

As Hannibal Smith said on The A-Team, "I love it when a plan comes together."

The Vanderbilt baseball team's job is far from done in Omaha, Nebraska, but the Commodores' plans are certainly coming together heading into the weekend. If Vanderbilt beats TCU on Friday night, it will advance to the College World Series Championship Series for the second straight season, leaving only one opponent to stand in the way of a repeat national title. Should TCU defeat Vanderbilt on Friday, the Dores would get a second crack at the Horned Frogs on Saturday to punch their ticket to the CWS's final showdown.

There are many wonderful and admirable dimensions to the way VU's week (and hopefully fortnight) in Omaha has begun. One of them is what we talked about last week: The Dores really didn't have to prove anything to the nation in Nebraska. They had already returned to the CWS and overcome early-stage NCAA tournament pressure in the regionals and Super Regionals. If they were under pressure to validate last season, they had already done so by returning to Omaha. This team needed to just relax and enjoy the reality of having affirmed its greatness, giving itself a spacious psychological realm in which to let loose and allow other teams to do the worrying in the tense, late-inning situations baseball so regularly provides.

Baseball is always a sport best played with a relaxed mindset. By winning a College World Series and then making another visit to the Heartland 12 months later, Vanderbilt had absorbed pressure. In 2015, it was time to make this June road trip a burdensome one for the other teams in VU's half of the bracket.

MIssion almost accomplished -- one win in the next two days will make VU the winner of its side of the bracket in Omaha, pitting the Dores against Virginia or Florida.


Stop for a moment and consider all the immensely frustrating things that have happened to this team over the past week:

The Dores trailed by three runs when a game was suspended. They could have allowed the reality of a negative scoreboard to make them restless and unsettled. Instead, they could not have responded better to that awkward and unpleasant situation. They didn't allow a single run after the game resumed, and they stacked together a series of loud extra-base hits in the bottom of the ninth, the last one being Jeren Kendall's two-run bomb to win it against one of the elite pitchers in the nation.

Keep this in mind: Rosenblatt Stadium, the former home of the CWS in Omaha, was oftena launching pad. It was a far more hitter-friendly yard than TD Ameritrade Park, the new location for college baseball's showcase event. That Kendall was able to crank a ball out of the yard is impressive enough; that he did so in the crucible of ninth-inning tension was a profound manifestation of the fact that this team just doesn't get flustered anymore.

This pattern remained in evidence on Tuesday against TCU.

It's so thoroughly irritating about baseball: allowing a bunt single to lead off the inning and put pressure on your defense, without the pitcher making a real mistake. A non-bunt infield single to lead off an inning? Same thing.

These events happened to Vanderbilt in the latter innings of Tuesday's game against TCU. Yet, Vanderbilt pitchers never flinched or allowed those maddening occurrences to ruffle their feathers. The Commodores calmly absorbed those unwelcome plot complications and surmounted them, with airtight pitching when TCU put those runners on base. Pitch after pitch after pitch, VU hurlers didn't give Horned Frog hitters anything good to look at when runners got on base.

Against both Fullerton and TCU, if you were to look at a baseball team whose collective state of being is impervious to the various ways in which baseball can ruin your sanity, Vanderbilt is it. This team has reached such a state of Zen relaxation that close games are almost something to be craved.

Maybe TCU wallops VU twice to send the Dores home. Sometimes, you just get beat, and that's baseball (not to mention life). However, one truly gets the sense that if TCU and Vanderbilt play games that are up for grabs, the Dores will be the team in the CWS Championship Series next week.

You could ask the Oakland A's all about this, only from the opposite side of the tracks. The A's, roughly a week ago, were 4-18 this year in one-run games. Some teams have a knack for winning close baseball games, and others don't. Yet, whether in times of prosperity or gloom, it remains that the most successful baseball teams do win a majority of one-run contests. Vanderbilt is 2-0 in such games in Omaha. If more one-run games are on the docket, the Dores should love their chances.

The plan's all coming together -- just a few more pieces (and wins) need to be brought to the table. Top Stories