How private equity, drones and Raul Ibañez helped Julian Infante turn the page on a tough junior season

Vanderbilt Baseball prepares for the upcoming season on Tuesday, February 5th, 2019. (Photo by Brent Szklaruk)

Vanderbilt Baseball prepares for the upcoming season on Tuesday, February 5th, 2019. (Photo by Brent Szklaruk)

Cutler Klein, Sports Editor

2018 was not Julian Infante’s year.

In his junior season, Vanderbilt’s power-hitting first baseman saw his bat go ice cold. He had just a .193 batting average and only 18 RBIs. It took him until the very end of April to knock in an RBI in each game of a three-game series.

With numbers like that, Infante had a number of ways he could have approached the offseason. He could have spent every day in the batting cage, spent hours with trainers analyzing his mechanics and spend every waking hour trying to make sure those numbers don’t repeat themselves.

Instead, Infante took the opposite approach. He spent his time doing the only thing he knew how to do: be himself.

That meant time away from the diamond and exploring his passions.

“I actually worked,” Infante said. “Just a change of perspective. I was working as an assistant in private equity, a guy I worked with, very lucky to learn from that guy. My friends have a drone company that I’m a part of too, and I was learning the ins and outs of that, how to start up a business, so that was pretty cool. I got to hit with Raul Ibañez, so that was cool too. His view on the game, his view on everything is just so fun and so direct, so confident. That’s such a big part of hitting and just trusting yourself. I learned some good things from him and that was good too.”

These pursuits helped him reset and get back to basics, which is what he struggled to do in the 2018 campaign. According to Infante, his struggles stemmed from overthinking and trying to focus too much on his mechanics at the plate. He got away from who he was as a person and a ballplayer.

The Vandy Boys play the University of South Carolina on Saturday, April 28, 2018 at Hawkins Field. (Photo by Claire Barnett)

Head Coach Tim Corbin has seen how that can affect a player, even a player as confident and skilled as Infante.

“I just think that’s the nature of baseball and what it does to confidence,” Corbin said. “At times, you think you’ve never played the game before. You go ‘This is so damn foreign, but yet I’ve had so much success in certain parts of my life. Now it looks like I don’t even know how to do anything.’”

“I just think we’ve all been there. If you’ve played at the highest level, you understand how difficult this game is and how difficult it is to manage consistency over the course of time. I’ve seen it enough to understand it and he’s one of those kids that just keeps moving along. He took the summer off and did some other things, which I think was good for him.”

Despite all of the struggles, Corbin had faith in Infante and kept him in the lineup. Infante delivered with his stellar defense at first base. While it might have been hard to keep a guy with a batting average under the Mendoza Line in the lineup, it meant everything to Infante to have people that reminded him of his abilities.

“He was always there for me, I definitely can say that,” Infante said of Corbin. “All of the coaches were, all my teammates were. I was very fortunate to have such a great group of guys always pushing me, always near me, always there to check me when I might have started acting a little differently. I was thankful for that, but they just always kept their faith in me. They always knew who I am as a player and as a teammate.”

Even through all of his struggles of last season, Infante was still able to make an impact through his leadership, and he’s carried that into this season as a talented freshman class enters the program. Vanderbilt has a rare group of seniors this year with Infante, Ethan Paul and Stephen Scott.

While having that many seniors is a boon in and of itself, having someone like Infante around is even more valuable with how far he goes to be a team player.

Vanderbilt Baseball prepares for the upcoming season on Tuesday, February 5th, 2019. (Photo by Brent Szklaruk)

“He’s got something going with every player,” Corbin said. “He’s a stabilizing force. He gives of himself to every single person in that locker room. That’s just a tough thing to do. Guys don’t do that. Guys just don’t do that naturally. He’s one of those guys that’s got a relationship with everyone and he’s giving all the time. Older guy, picking up young kids, just always there when I need him. ‘Can you help me out here, Julian?’ Yes, yes, yes and yes.”

This past weekend, Infante played in just one of the three games at the MLB4 season-opening tournament, drawing a walk and striking out once. Vanderbilt rolled out many different lineup combinations, and Stephen Scott got to try his hand at first base. As the season goes on, Infante will undoubtedly get more chances to prove that his new back-to-basics approach is effective, and that all of his problems of the past are just that: in the past.

“That stuff in the past is just overthinking,” Infante said. “I found a way to help the team out in other ways, and this year it’s just different. I’m confident in the team, confident in myself and that’s all you can control.”