Since Christian is off in Bermuda covering America’s Cup for SB Nation (please don’t ask me why America’s Cup is being held in Bermuda), you get me covering baseball for the weekend. Woohoo!
Actually, I’ll be the first to admit I don’t pay a great deal of attention to our baseball team. Shame on me, but ya’ll know I do basketball. So I had to go look up some stuff in the media guide so that I could at least sound like I know what the hell I’m talking about, and like all college sports media guides, you find out some interesting trivia when you read the media guide.
For instance, the great sportswriter Grantland Rice was Vanderbilt’s baseball coach in 1908. Grantland went 11-9-2 in his lone season. Wallace Wade coached the Commodore baseball team in 1922 and 1923, and then later in 1923 he became Alabama’s football coach. That’s right, Alabama once hired Vanderbilt’s baseball coach to coach its football team. Alabama won the Rose Bowl in 1925 and claimed three national titles under Wade, then Wade went to become Duke’s head football coach in 1931. College football used to be weird. Duke eventually named its football stadium for Wade.
Oh yeah, and the lettermen. Did you know Watson Brown lettered in baseball in 1972? Yeah, I didn’t know that either. I had totally forgotten that Mark Prior played a year at Vanderbilt in 1999 before transferring to USC. Former Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans owner Bud Adams played baseball for Vanderbilt in 1986-87, which is a little weird because Wikipedia says he was in his 60s, and Aerosmith lead singer Steve Tyler lettered for the baseball team in 1975. Okay, that was probably a different Bud Adams and a different Steve Tyler, but pedantry.
Oh, and Vanderbilt hasn’t always been good at baseball. The Commodores are in the NCAA Tournament for the 12th year in a row and the 13th time in the last 14 years, but Vanderbilt made just four NCAA appearances prior to that.
And since the ESPN family of networks is broadcasting the tournament, you just know they will not mention the tidbit that Tim Corbin was a Clemson assistant coach before he became Vanderbilt’s head coach. I am sure this will not get mentioned at any point this weekend, and especially not if Vanderbilt happens to play Clemson.
Vanderbilt will open the regional at 11 AM CT on Friday against 3-seed St. John’s, which went 42-11 — but the fact that they’re a 3-seed with that record should tell you something about the competition they’ve faced. St. John’s did beat North Carolina back on March 1, so they’re capable of beating good teams at least, but most of the rest of their schedule has consisted of teams that I assume are bad at baseball. The Johnnies do have a legit pitcher, though, in freshman righty Sean Mooney. Mooney went 8-1 with a 1.22 ERA and 85 strikeouts in 96 innings, and I am almost certain he will start for St. John’s on Friday. St. John’s has a team BA of .327 but that comes with a SLG of .458 and just 35 homers all season, so it’s a lot of slap hitters — and again, this might be inflated by the competition.
Clemson (or “Clempson,” as it is allegedly pronounced) is the regional host for the second year in a row, and the Tigers are led by 2016 Dick Howser Trophy winner Seth Beer. Beer has a slash line of .291/.462/.587 with 14 homers. In addition to Beer, the Tigers have two players named Cox (Grant and Andrew) and I am certain that the Anchor of Gold commentariat will not make any off-color jokes about Beer and Cox. Beer has been slightly outshined by redshirt junior outfielder Reed Rohlman, who’s hitting .375/.464/.572. Clemson’s strength is hitting, with a deep lineup that probably won’t feature anybody batting worse than .270 or with an OBP under .330, and the Tigers have knocked 69 (nice) homers this year.
That said, for a regional host, Clemson’s starting pitching is a little suspect. Junior lefty Charlie Barnes is the ace and has logged 109 strikeouts and a 2.73 ERA in 95.2 innings, but Vanderbilt might not see him. And the Tigers do have a shutdown closer in sophomore Ryley Gilliam, who has 50 strikeouts in 34.2 innings, but overall the staff ERA is 3.53 — decent, but not great.
UNC Greensboro is the 4-seed here and the Spartans, the SoCon champs, come in with a 35-22 record. The Spartans can hit a bit, but with a staff ERA of 5.02, well — there’s your problem. I would be surprised if they win a game.
This actually isn’t a bad regional for Vanderbilt, all things considered. Clemson is good but appears to be beatable, and St. John’s might be tough with Mooney on the mound but probably doesn’t have the offensive punch to overcome Vanderbilt.