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Friday, May 6, 2016

Jones: Loss doesn't diminish Commodores

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

David Price gave Vanderbilt fans reason to cheer and express pride in their program as the top amateur baseball player in the country.
(T-G File Photo by Danny Parker)
Vanderbilt's baseball season ended with a visiting team celebrating an upset as one of the biggest crowds in Commodore history looked on in stunned disbelief. It was the first time this season that an opponent had won two of three games against them in Nashville.

It was a surreal ending to the school's most successful season.

It still doesn't seem fathomable that the Black and Gold, winners of 54 games and the SEC regular season and tournament champions, would come up short in the NCAA Regional championship game after coming from behind on 32 different occasions this year.

Their fairy tale season was ended by a .188 hitting freshman reserve who launched the shot heard across the country off David Price, the National Player of the Year, an All-American and the guy who Vandy coach Tim Corbin called the best pitcher that he will ever coach.

But the Commodores have already started to reap the benefits that come with being recognized as a national power.

One of the biggest was the fans that showed up in record numbers to lend their support, making the 1,500 seats added to Hawkins Field seem like a petty number. The fans in the new right field bleachers very quickly took on a life of their own and provided their own form of entertainment as they started a tradition by exercising in concert with the reserve players in between every inning.

This section turned right fielder Dominic de la Osa's last name into a cheer and led the inspiring Black and Gold chant that reverberated throughout the west end of Nashville during the tournament.

The bleachers have to stay.

When Corbin was being enticed by LSU last year, one of his big concerns was fan support.

He won't have to worry about that anymore. There were very few empty seats during the regular season and the regional tickets sold out in about 32 hours.

Scalpers were doing a very brisk business and the vendors were unable to keep Commodore memorabilia stocked.

Media requests were so heavy that Thomas Samuels, Vanderbilt's sports information director, had to have special booths set up in the press box. There still wasn't enough room.

Overall, it was a very special season and I feel so privileged to have been able to witness it. I can't even begin to tell you how gratifying it was to see the camaraderie that this team has. They were truly united with one goal in mind.

These kids have genuine affection for one another. No five cabs for five guys after their games. They hang together, play, sweat, eat, and cry together. Egos get checked at the locker room door for the betterment of the team. There is no room for prima donnas, nor would they be tolerated.

There are no bad characters on this squad. Each one is an outstanding citizen, one of the chief criteria for being recruited by Corbin and staff.

The facilities and the people hired to run the day-to-day operations are first-class all the way. Samuels, Rod Williamson, Will Matthews, Steven Parks, photographer Neil Brake and Brandon Barca epitomize professionalism and I am deeply appreciative of them for making this rookie journalist feel welcome.

The Commodores will be losing several players. David Price will bypass his senior season and will soon be a multi-millionaire and, in all probability, in a major league rotation next season.

Closer Casey Weathers improved his stock considerably with his play for Team USA this past summer and his lights-out performance this season. He is projected in the first or second round.

For De la Osa, another junior, stock will never be higher after his outstanding season. He, too, is likely to take the money and run.

They will be hard to replace, but next year's recruiting class will be one of the tops in the nation, another fruit of success.

It was a disappointing way to end the season, but Corbin and the boys will turn it into a positive during the offseason.

There is still work to be done and missions yet to be accomplished.

The memory of the Michigan team celebrating in Vanderbilt's house will be seared into their memories forever. It hurts now, but it may not be the worst thing that could have happened to them.

Fairy tales are just that. Fairy tales. The truth is that sometimes you fail, no matter how much blood, sweat, and tears you put into it.

Baseball has a way of reminding you of that in a sudden manner, sometimes in the most unexpected manner.

The Commodores know that now. They have experienced it up close and personal. Not to worry.

They know to a man that the game will always come back to them.

Jimmy Jones is a Times-Gazette sports writer.

Jimmy Jones
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