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The Vandy Boys

The Vandy Boys

If you live in Nashville and like sports, you can go to Tennessee Titans football games or Nashville Predators hockey games.

Or, if you’re a true Nashville insider, you can go to the best games in town, at a jewel-like ballpark just a few blocks from our knockoff Parthenon in Centennial Park. It’s Hawkins Field, home of the Vanderbilt University baseball team, who are known as the Vandy Boys.

We first went to Hawkins Field one beautiful spring day as the guests of our friends Bob Pitz and Carol Armes, who were season ticket holders. Bob’s office was just a short distance away, in the engineering department at Vanderbilt University. He and Carol were baseball fans, and so were we.

I had never liked college baseball, honestly for just one reason: the sound of bat hitting ball. In “real” baseball the bat was made of wood, and the sound was a pleasant thwack.In college, the bat was metal, and the sound was more of a ping.

Ping?

It was a disgrace, a sacrilege. So I turned up my nose.

But on that beautiful spring day, in that lovely little park, I reconsidered. The sun shone. The breeze blew. And on the field, young men threw and caught and swung their bats—metal, yes, but really, was it their fault?

They were the Vandy Boys. At the time, it was just a nickname on social media, but soon it had been officially adopted and was spread across the field, on the scoreboard, at the website.

The name, like that greatest of baseball books, Roger Kahn's The Boys of Summer, put me in mind of T-shirts and sneakers and grass stains and long, hot days. I liked Hawkins Field, and Yvonne and I found ourselves going there more and more often.

We learned about the coach, Tim Corbin, known to everyone as Corbs. He had arrived fifteen years earlier to find the program on life support and gradually had built it into a powerhouse, in recent years supplying more major leaguers than any other college. The Vandy Boys were national champions in 2014, runners-up in 2015, and champions again in 2019.

But Corbs was turning out more than champions. He was grooming young men for life. One former player, when asked what kinds of things he had learned from Corbs, thought for a minute and shyly admitted, “He taught me how to brush my teeth.”

The Vandy Boys always seemed to be having fun—chatting during warmups, joking in the dugout, motioning to each other after every hit, stomping home plate when scoring a run. Between innings, those not in the game spread out in a circle on the grass, where they did cockeyed exercises and jumped through hoops consisting of teammates’ legs, then exchanged high fives and sprinted back to the dugout.

We were hooked, and for the 2020 season we bought season tickets. If you follow sports, you know what happened next. On March 11, after just 18 games, the NCAA pronounced the season over, and college baseball, along with the rest of the world, went into hibernation. Our new hobby was nipped in the bud.

College baseball resumed in 2021 but did so with empty stands. From our seats in front of the TV, we got to know the new Vanderbilt team: pitchers Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter (shown here), shortstop Carter Young, center fielder and leadoff hitter Enrique Bradfield Jr., whose blazing speed often turned walks, through stolen bases, into triples.

Then finally, when the pandemic tapered off, the Hawkins Field stands began filling up again. This weekend we have tickets to the Super Regional round of the NCAA playoffs, where Vanderbilt will battle East Carolina for the right to play in the College World Series.

We’ll sit along the first-base line and take it all in—yes, including the ping of metal bats.

You know what? I almost like that sound. Almost.

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Game Night

Blog: Reflections