What do you say when Sonny Gray, David Price and Pedro Alvarez are behind the batting cage watching you hit?
Not much. You just listen to their advice.
That’s Vanderbilt baseball for you. I remember one day at practice my junior year. Pedro was watching me take swings — you know, the All-Star first baseman for the Pirates, just hanging out in his offseason and offering tips. At Vandy, we always had Major Leaguers stopping by, saying hello to Coach Corbin, lifting at the gym and getting to know the current team. Once people leave, they always come back. It says something about the love that everyone has for this place.
So it was my junior year and we were doing a simulated game — pitcher vs. hitter. You’d hit once and then get out of the cage. After each round, Pedro would pull me aside to talk about my swing, or different approaches to different pitches, or how to read certain pitchers. The thing that still sticks in my mind is what he said about the mental game of hitting — how to move past things when you’re struggling and how to keep a clear mind when you’re in the box.
Seek the advice of people with more experience than you and you’ll grow as a person and athlete. It was one of many lessons I learned as a Commodore.
Last week, I signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks, fulfilling a lifelong dream to play professional baseball. It was a crazy week. But I have to say, my mind instantly jumped back to Nashville. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for my experience at Vanderbilt. I wanted to write down some of my memories and thank the people who helped me get to where I am today.
Vandy baseball is family to me. It’s not just a family of 35 players. It’s Coach Corbin and the whole coaching staff. It’s the equipment managers, trainers and media team. It’s the fans in their late 70s who have had season tickets for 40 years and it’s the kids who bring gloves to catch foul balls at our home games.
Thank you to Coach Corbin. My first day at school, I walked into the baseball offices to have a meeting with him. I told him that I wanted to be the best player ever to come out of Vanderbilt. I didn’t mean it in a cocky way — I just wanted him to know how focused and determined I was. There was long silence in the room, and then he was like, “Well, you know we’ve had some pretty good ones come through here. How do you plan on doing that?”
Three years later, I don’t know if I’ve achieved that level (David Price, another Commodore who’s become like a big brother to me, might disagree), but I know I owe a lot of my success to Coach Corbin. He’s like a second father to me and he’s the most unselfish person I’ve ever met. He wants all the attention for us, not for himself. It’s hard to sum up in words what I learned from Coach Corbin, but the three things I’ll take away are: Be prepared, do things the right way and have fun.
To my teammates, you are like brothers to me, and I love each and every one of you to death. The way this year ended was definitely tough because we were on the nine-game win streak going into the World Series, then we lost two in a row to Virginia and it was all over so fast. It just didn’t seem real because we felt that we were the better team — no disrespect to Virginia. But the emotions I felt after the game weren’t related to losing the game. I just didn’t want my Vanderbilt career to be over.
My teammates have been there for me through thick and thin, especially after my surgeries freshman year. We’ve been through a lifetime together in a few short years. I’ll miss the off-the-field stuff: staying up later than we should have just to talk and hang out, playing way too much MLB: The Show, exploring Nashville, inventing hallway golf games. They’ve made me a better guy off the field and they’ve pushed me to be the best I can be on the field.
And last but not least, thank you to my family. Their love is as good as it can get. My parents would come to all of my games, from Nashville to Arkansas to Los Angeles. They’ll never stop rocking the black and gold Vanderbilt t-shirts with pride. Thank you to my sister (Lindsey) and brother (Chase) and my grandparents for their neverending support.
Thanks again for all the support. I now consider Nashville my home. Once a VandyBoy, always a VandyBoy.