OMAHA, Neb. -- A baseball coach is many things -- he is a strategist, a mentor, a statistician, a disciplinarian, a psychologist and a father figure.
Vanderbilt’s Tim Corbin is all this and more for the Commodores, who are making their second consecutive trip to the College World Series finals. Corbin has captained the Vandy ship for 13 seasons and during that time has turned the team into national baseball power.
It’s no surprise when a team takes on the personality of its coach and this year’s Vanderbilt team is no different. Corbin has assembled a collection of top-ranked talent, led by Dansby Swanson and Carson Fulmer.Swanson was the No. 1 overall selection in the MLB Draft, selected by the Arizona Diamondbacks. For better or for worse, it is the shortstop from Marietta, Georgia that the national media wants to focus on. That attention could lead to a blown out ego or locker room troubles. But Corbin doesn’t see that and says Swanson deserves the credit.
“He takes on a servant mentality and that’s what’s the coaching staff wants,” Corbin said. “He is able to convey that to the group and than the group is able to get to a certain point.”
Despite the Major League pedigree on this team, no player is more important than another.
“I appreciate these guys,” Corbin said. “I appreciate their ability to engage in one another and stay away from jealousy. That is huge component to building a team. They do that very well. Their ability to engage in one another and celebrate one another is unique.”
It also helps that this Vanderbilt team enjoys being teammates on and off the field.
“We have a relativity unselfish program -- meaning we like to spend a lot of time together,” pitcher Philip Pfeifer said. ”We will hang out at the hotel or we will go eat. We aren’t surrounded by the hype. [Coach Corbin] says you may only get to see this from the field maybe once in your life. He helps up understand the mortality of this moment. “
There is a lot of off-the-field hype that surrounds this Vanderbilt team and Omaha is a unique experience. The one thing Corbin preaches to his team is to ‘soak it all in’ because most people will never experience something like playing in the College World Series. These days in Omaha are something to be savored and enjoyed because there are no guarantees in life or baseball. He wants his team to enjoy ‘the gift of right now.’
The gift of today is not lost on Corbin.
“We're certainly fortunate. I think we've been through some tough roads to be in this position, the regional and then the Super Regional in Illinois, which I thought we faced some outstanding pitching. And then we played reasonably well up until this point, had some very good pitching outcomes and played well defensively and hit enough,” he said. “But we're certainly excited to be in this position, and if you told me 24 months ago that you had one month to spend in Omaha over the last two years, I would say we'll take it, especially since it's surrounded by these circumstances in baseball. We're proud of what we've done and certainly glad to be here.”
The 53-year-old coach says he uses the stepparent model from his own family and applies to his team. He believes coaching is just like being a stepparent -- you love someone else’s children. It is that love that has built the foundation for this Vanderbilt team.
"Coach Corbin is a father figure to all of us," pitcher Carson Fulmer said. "He is a little different of a coach than I thought I would have, someone I'm going to keep with the rest of my life and love the rest of my life."
Some good teams have played for Corbin during his time as skipper for Vandy, but for the first time in his career he has let this group ‘drive the car’ and learned to trust the team. It was something that was difficult for him to do because he didn’t want to coach himself out of the game. He has worked hard to learn from his mistakes and to correct them and he is enjoying the game more than his has in the past.
“I'm not going to tell you I've got any part of this figured out, but I think there's priorities that exist and my perspective was not always as clean as it needed to be,” he said. “And so I think I've learned to enjoy it more than I did maybe 10 years ago. And for that I apologize to the kids that I coached in the past, because I wish I had a redo, and I wish I had a rewind button where I could go back and at least enjoy them a little bit more than I did. And I hope they won't hold any grudges against me for that. I think this whole teaching thing has been a little bit clearer for me in the past couple of years.”
All fathers are proud of their sons when they take the field, win or lose. It will be no different for Tim Corbin watching his #VandyBoys under the lights at TD Ameritrade Park this week at the CWS Finals.