The ace of Vanderbilt’s staff starts his game well before the first pitch is even thrown. It all begins the night before, with Patrick Raby sitting up in his room, envisioning in his mind what’s going to happen. He pictures how he plans to attack each hitter, where he needs to locate, what sequences to throw, and every little intricacy of his outing. The ballgame is so well played out in his virtual reality that it begins to look familiar when it unfolds in real time.

His preparation continues with a pregame meal to which almost every college student can relate.

“I try to get Chipotle every time that I can,” says Raby, chuckling to himself.

While his lunch might be relatable, the rest of his routine is far from it. Hours in the lab to get his body into peak physical shape and ready to go by first pitch has become ubiquitous for the junior right-hander.

“I think everyone has their superstitions and routines and whatnot,” he says.  “It’s just doing cues for my body that I know I need to do to be successful.”

It’s hard to argue with Raby’s logic. The Knoxville native took Farragut High School to four state tournaments, three state championship games, and a state title before he stepped foot on Vanderbilt’s campus in 2015. Winning has been a benchmark in Raby’s career since he picked up a baseball. Following a stellar high school campaign, Raby looked to further that success at one of the most storied programs of the past decade in college baseball. The high expectations were never an issue for him.

“I think high expectations are good,” says Raby. “You’ve got the external expectations of everyone, all the fans and the other teams that you’re playing and everything like that, but I think our internal expectations are even greater.  No one expects the most out of us other than us.”

Raby has done his part, earning a Sunday starting spot right out of the gate and posting an outstanding freshman campaign. In ten starts, he went 7-1 with a 2.61 ERA and 63 strikeouts. Opposing hitters batted .174 against him.

His sophomore season was just as impressive. This time he was pitching on Saturdays, starting the year 4-2 just a couple weeks into conference play. His most recent start had featured seven shutout innings in which he scattered three hits and struck out six.

The following Monday afternoon figured to be a normal day at practice, but a call into the office of manager Tim Corbin left Raby wondering what could be going on. Corbin sat him down and told him that he was thinking about making him the number one starter, effective next weekend. The move was in light of Raby’s excellent start to the season, coupled with the struggles of projected first-round pick Kyle Wright. Corbin confirmed the move two days later, and Raby was slated to start Friday against the Kentucky Wildcats on the road.

Raby, who usually is as stoic and composed on the mound as they come, started to sense the nerves heading into Friday’s start.

“Whether I knew it or not, I was focusing on trying to get our series off to a good start because that was the reason for making that change.  I think I put a lot of pressure on myself internally,” he says.

The pressure seemed to get to Raby, and he threw what ended up being his worst outing of the year. The experiment looked like an instant failure, which made the next weekend’s matchup against South Carolina ever-so-important. Raby was set on making sure that his previous start was merely an anomaly. He responded with seven strong innings, allowing just two runs and earning his fifth win of the year. He’d finish the season at 10-4 with a 2.71 ERA and 87 strikeouts.

Now headed into his junior season, Raby is the Commodores’ unquestionable ace. And in a program that has produced top of the line starters in David Price, Sonny Gray, Carson Fulmer, Walker Buehler, Jordan Sheffield, and most recently, Wright, that role comes with a lot of responsibility. In Corbin’s eyes, however, Raby possesses a quality that even the star hurlers before him struggled to match.

“Consistency. Plain and simple,” says Corbin of his ace. “You know what you’ll get out of him every day and that makes him a big commodity to our program.”

Raby is glad to have his manager in his corner.

“I think it’s definitely reassuring.  I try to hold up to that.  The last thing I’d want to be is inconsistent.  Consistency is a big part of being a pitcher and even just a leader on a team. I think that just really goes back to my preparations and everything.”

Keeping a steady routine and always maintaining composure has been a major factor in Raby’s consistency over the past couple years with the program. Raby credits a lot of his consistency to his mental preparation. He gets his training from Ken Ravizza, a leading sports psychologist and performance consultant who wrote a book on mental skills training and has worked for the Chicago Cubs organization.

Even now, with two superb seasons under his belt, Raby still isn’t garnering the looks from Major League scouts that his predecessors were so accustomed to getting. He recognizes that he isn’t the kind of guy who will dazzle scouts and have them hanging on every pitch. He isn’t going to top 95 on the gun. He’s going to sit in the 92-93 range, he’s going to go in with a game plan, and he’s going to locate his pitches to execute that game plan. There really isn’t anything flashy about it, and sometimes that’s the catch with consistency. Raby has never been worried about that.

“I really try not to make too much out of certain situations,” he says. “Going into junior year a lot of guys were big draft eligible guys. I don’t really know if I’m seen like that and that’s okay.  I don’t really have my feelings hurt by that or anything.”

Raby watched as Wright was drafted by his favorite team, the Atlanta Braves, with the number five pick in the MLB Draft last June, prompting Corbin’s message to this year’s team: “Dreams do come true.”

If Raby can build on his last two years, that dream is sure to become a reality, but right now, Raby doesn’t have time to dream. He’s busy sitting up at night envisioning his next game. And with the Commodores ready to embark on their season, that game starts now.

(Photo via Brent Szklaruk//The Vanderbilt Hustler)

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