Stephen recently completed his junior season as a relief pitcher. The crafty lefty used an assortment of pitches to trick opposing batters.
Matt red-shirted as a true freshman and should contend for playing time in the infield next season.
Recently, I interviewed both brothers. Today, you'll hear what older brother Stephen has to say. In part two, it will be Matt's turn at bat.
Stephen Shao came to Vanderbilt from nearby Mt. Juliet High School in the fall semester of 2003 after being named to the all-state team and left-handed pitcher of the year. In the classroom, he was a member of the prestigious National Honor Society.
As a freshman with the Commodores in 2004, he struck out more than a batter per inning and held opponents to a .211 batting average while going 4-0 with a 3.45 ERA, helping pitch the black and gold all the way to the NCAA Super Regional against Texas. As a sophomore in 2005, he went 3-2 with a pair of saves and an ERA of 3.69. This past season, he finished 2-3 with two more saves and a 3.62 ERA.
VandyMania: The media has repeatedly said that 2006 was an overachieving season for the Commodore baseball team. How did the team think this season would play out?
SS: Our team knew going into the season that we were young and that experience plays a large role in winning in the SEC, but we did not let that affect our mental toughness as a whole or our desire to win. We knew we could compete, especially when we started the first couple of series of the SEC at 8-2. We expected to do well as a team in my opinion because as a whole, we are extremely competitive.
VM: Where do you see the team's progress at the start of 2007? Should Vandy be ranked in the pre-season top 25?
SS: I think our team will carry our "mental" momentum into 2007 because we could do things this past season like score late in the game when we were down. Our younger guys can now feel like leaders and know what to expect. There will be a sense of confidence. The top 25 does not mean much to our program because critics are not right all the time; it's simply opinion. Should we ranked in the top 25 next year, honestly, it does not matter.
VM: This season saw Coach Corbin use a bullpen by committee with no defined roles. How did this affect your pitching physically?
SS: You have to be ready to go all the time. You could be called on in any situation. To me, I always felt that I was the guy, so I prepared that way.
VM: How did it affect it mentally?
SS: Not too much. I am always a student of the game when we play; I try to learn as much as I can about the team as I watch them do anything--practice play, etc.
VM: Rate each one of your pitches and how you plan to improve your repertoire next year. Stephen Shao: Command of the fastball is the number one thing for pitching. Being able to throw in and out can get you a lot of outs on its own. A spotted fastball is a great pitch in any situation in my opinion. My change up was my pitch the last two years and it was again effective this year. However, the development of my slider and the way it has progressed forced it into consideration more often while pitching. Normally, while facing left-handed batters, I would throw fastballs and breaking balls. Then with right-handers, I would throw fastballs and change-ups. This year, I was able to throw the slider a lot more to right-handers because I learned the pitch and understood it better. The curveball is the pitch I use primarily to get ahead of hitters and to set up my slider; they see breaking ball spin early and it is a slow, bigger break type pitch. So then when I throw the slider later in the at-bat, they see a slower pitch like a curveball, but it breaks differently; it breaks hard and late, making it harder to recognize and react. Overall, I am happy with my "stuff". I would like to gain a little more velocity (who wouldn't though) and be able to command my pitches a bit better.
VM: Do you consider yourself a potential full-time closer in 2007, or do you think you will compete for a starting assignment?
SS: I would like to start, and it is something I have always wanted to do, but coming in as a "long-closer" is what I will do if coach asks me. Mainly, I just want to pitch and compete because that is what I play for.
VM: As a high school star at Mt. Juliet, describe the process that led to you becoming a Commodore. What set it apart from your other offers?
SS: My close friends and family are number one to me. They are an extremely vital part of my life; without them, I do not know what I would do. Also, my family is very educationally oriented, with a lot of PhD's in my family tree. Vanderbilt is a great academic institution that allows me to be near my family and receive a wonderful education. Athletically, we compete in the SEC and some of the best competition in college baseball. Coach Corbin and Coach Johnson also played a large role in why I came to Vanderbilt; I owe all of my success and progress as a player to those guys. They are amazing coaches on and off the field. They have given me great leadership as a coaches, friends, and father figures.
VM: How much influence did you have on your brother's collegiate decision?
SS: My brother and I are extremely close. Playing baseball together along with pretty much everything else has been something we have always done. As soon as he knew he had an opportunity to play with me it was the only choice. It was perfect for both of us. It has been great with him as a brother, friend, and teammate at Vanderbilt for me.
Above, right photo by Katy Hamlett