i have tried to stay low key. Not get excited. Not get nervous. Ignore my superstitious gremlin attempting to overtake me.
None of this actually happened, of course: i was higher than a kite, sometimes too excited to talk (and we know that is really, really excited). And nervous. Lord, was i nervous through the Super Regionals and the entire College World Series. i watched nearly all of the nine games my team played live, a rare occurrence for me. i usually record sports and watch to fast forward through the talking heads and commercials, but this, this was too important.
Along the way, old friends from college and high school kept growing in my correspondence about the CWS. It was fun to reconnect with so many but a little scary. That former sports writer stuff on my work list seemed to make me an expert of some sorts. i doubt it, but the title, even though it was long ago, apparently bears some weight. So that seemed to add a bit more responsibility. And then one of those friends has been spreading rumors that my previous optimism brought on a curse for our team, so i adopted a cynic’s pessimistic stance. After our team’s first win, i became concerned that such a stance might create a double-cross and have the opposite curse of its own.
But tonight, the Vandy Boys won it all. i sat in my chair and soaked it in, feeling a glow. A glow of what?
Yeh, my team, Vanderbilt won their second national championship in baseball. Their reputation as a power house in the sport is established. And winners beget winners. More championships are possible, difficult to obtain, but possible. And they deserved it. They outplayed the best teams in the country. The story lines and yes, the ironies are many.
For a little while i was giddy just like the fans in the stands in Omaha, just like the fans on Hawkins Field, Vanderbilt’s home stadium sporting the Fred Russell press box, and inside Memorial Gymnasium, and two dozen homes literally in every part of this country where my friends reside, and many more.
For me, there was something even better. Vanderbilt did it the right way, or as David Williams, who passed away within a week of retiring from his post as Vanderbilt’s Vice-Chancellor of Athletics would say, “The Vanderbilt Way.”
Coach Tim Corbin, whom his freshman phenom and outstanding player of the CWS, Kumar Rocker, called the “Sabin of college baseball,” epitomizes Williams’ idea of doing it right. They were a great fit together, and i believe Corbin has influenced other Vanderbilt coaches to approach their sports with the goal of doing it the right way, the Vandy way.
What is the Vandy way? Williams preached college athletics should be about developing an athlete to be a complete person, giving him or her the opportunity to succeed in the sport in which they competed while also giving them an education to maximize their success in their sports or in another area of their interest if athletic success failed to materialize. The Vandy way is to help the student-athlete develop into a mature, adjusted, responsible adult capable of success and capable of dealing with failure.
Many college athletic programs use such ideas as a hood ornament while recruiting athletes to win. Period. The athletes from those programs may move on to succeed in their sport, but the lack of emphasis on education (such as the many “one and done” basketball schools) leaves those athletes short in development as a human being.
Yeh, it’s not perfect at Vanderbilt. Never is. But they keep working hard to meet Williams’ idea of the Vandy way. And what i’ve seen so far, William’s replacement, Malcolm Turner is focused on getting more success done the Vandy way.
Tim Corbin and the Vandy Boys showed how it works. i’m proud of them.
And it is now late, well past midnight on the East Coast, past my bed time. i sit here in this glow, absorbing what i just saw.
i’m pretty sure somewhere up there David Williams is smiling.
And tomorrow morning, i will shave. It’s been a while.