By Ron Wynn
NASHVILLE, TN — The greatest baseball season in Vanderbilt University history was given more honors and notoriety last week as both the American Baseball Coaches Association and Collegiate Baseball named Vanderbilt’s Tim Corbin their national Coach of the Year. Vanderbilt won its second national title last Wednesday with an 8-2 victory over Michigan in the College World Series. Making it even more impressive is the fact the Commodores dropped the opening game of the best-of-three series, and had to win back-to-back contests. But they did so in impressive fashion, completing a record-breaking season in many ways.
Their 59-12 record set both school and Southeastern Conference marks for most wins. The Commodores won both the regular season and postseason SEC tournament. They never lost more than two straight games at any point, and that only happened twice. They broke a school mark for home runs, and had the nation’s single season leader in outfielder J.J. Bleday, who topped the nation with 27. They also tied a school mark by having 13 players drafted by MLB.
But perhaps the greatest accomplishment of the 2019 team is they were dominant from the start of the season right up to the end. Depending on which poll you chose, they were either picked number one or two beginning the year, and they remained in the Top 10 the entire season. Then after winning the SEC, they fell behind in the super regional, taking an 18-5 drubbing from Duke in the opening game at Hawkins Field. Then freshman starter Kumar Rocker became a national sensation by pitching a no-hitter in the second game, striking out 19, and saving the Commodores’ season. Rocker did the same thing in the final three-game College World Series, holding Michigan to one run and pitching Vanderbilt to another must-win in the second game that set the table for their 8-2 romp in the finale.
Unlike the 2014 team, which was a huge surprise and roared from out of nowhere to capture the school’s first national crown, this team was expected to be a title contender. However, no one anticipated they would almost win 60 games, or go through the nation’s toughest conference without suffering many defeats. There are many who have labeled Corbin the best coach in any sport, an honor he refuses to accept or acknowledge. But one thing he’s championed throughout his time at Vanderbilt is having a team that is diverse and inclusive, and this year’s club was praised by the Washington Post (along with Michigan) for having multiple Black players in an era when even HBCUs are having trouble finding top African Americans to play baseball.
This year’s second title improves Corbin’s record to an astonishing 740-354-1 mark. Aside from a pair of championships, he’s led the school to 15 NCAA Tournament appearances. They’ve made the super regional round nine times, and earned four College World Series berths. With Rocker, who was named Most Outstanding Player in the CWS and slugger Austin Martin both returning for the 2020 season, the Commodores’ prospects for repeating as champions look quite good.