(T-G Photo by Jimmy Jones)
But in the end, despite a draconian effort, it was simply not possible that the Vanderbilt Commodores could overcome their opening round loss to Middle Tennessee State in the NCAA Louisville Regional this past weekend.
The Commodores have battled a series of ups and downs all year long that can be attributed to youth and the associated lack of experience, but coach Tim Corbin and staff have built this team on pitching, defense and fundamental execution. Those skills paid big dividends throughout the tournament as they battled their way into the championship game with three straight wins, including one over the number one seeded hosts and eventual champions.
There is nothing in all of sports quite like Division I baseball. Nothing even comes close. I had the privilege of attending approximately 50 games this season including games at Belmont, Lipscomb, Vanderbilt and MTSU. I attended a regular season road series at Georgia, the Southeastern Conference tournament in Hoover, Ala., and then on to Kentucky for the NCAA Louisville Regional over a whirlwind six-week period.
Athens was a quaint little town teeming with southern hospitality and of course, a great sports tradition. Everywhere you looked there was a statue of a Bulldog adorning sidewalks, hotel lobbies, restaurants and, of course, on every corner of the town square.
I walked the university grounds and was amazed at the mixture of old and new architecture intermixed on beautifully landscaped grounds at the school that bills itself as the 'oldest school in the south.' The old camera got quite a workout during the visit.
The trip ended on a good note when the Commodores took two-of-three games over the weekend.
The SEC tournament was not only great baseball played in a first-class facility in a gorgeous town, but it was special in that my wife, Shawna, and my daughters, Katie, Emily and Lillie Beth came with. We splurged on a great hotel, ate way too much and the girls swam the pool dry on several occasions.
Between games we managed to visit the Birmingham zoo (twice, the girls had so much fun the first time), a science museum, did some shopping and just in general indulged ourselves.
It was a welcome respite from the normal warp speed pace that is our lives on a daily basis in the Jones household.
The topper of the trip for me personally was that VU, the eighth seed in the tournament, played some great baseball to finish second to LSU, who is now ranked number one in the nation as of this posting.
The week was a dream come true for me. I got to see the best baseball in the world with the best seats in the house. I wrote articles and posted game pictures for one of the most respected web sites in America, College Baseball Insider, and my family not only shared the experience but had a blast and can't wait to go back next year!
I moved on to the University of Louisville, a beautiful facility played on an artificial surface, and you know how that ended for my beloved Commodores -- but they will be back. They lose only two seniors from this team.
They will surely lose their ace, Mike Minor, a junior and Forrest High graduate, to the big leagues and they will have a few draft-eligible players who will be sorely tempted by scouts waving six-figure or more checks around, but look out for these guys over the next couple of seasons!
Numerous celebrities roamed the press box and adjoining suites but none bigger than the greatest boxer of all time, Muhammad Ali. I was lucky enough to get to meet him and tell him of the thrills he provided me as a youth while all the while trying to scrape my lower lip up off the floor. No matter what anybody says, I ain't washing this hand ever again!
Unfortunately, because of the Champ's frail condition, he was unable to accommodate the huge throng of photo requests, though my buddy Kevin Colon, who serves as the Associate Director of Student Athletics for Vanderbilt baseball, managed one. Click on www.vucommodores.blogspot.com/ to view the photo.
No matter, our meeting is indelibly stamped in my mind and the memory will never fade. In fact, this story just may grow over the years!
I was writing this to say that my traveling days were over for the year but ironically, as I was pecking away at the keyboard, my boss at CBI sent an e-mail asking me to cover the Oxford, Miss., Super Regional this coming weekend.
I don't know if the old truck is up for another road trip, but I know that I am.
I just hope that my family will be up to it. It would, after all, be the first time in our 11 years together that we've had two vacations in one year.
Just don't pinch me. I don't wish to wake up from this particular dream just yet.
Jimmy Jones is a Times-Gazette sports writer. He can be reached at email@example.com.