Hard work and rewards: the student managers of Vanderbilt Baseball

From shagging balls at batting practice to eating meals with the team, the Vanderbilt Baseball student managers have embraced their role.
Vanderbilts student managers smile for photos together. (Hustler Multimedia/Lexie Perez)
Vanderbilt’s student managers smile for photos together. (Hustler Multimedia/Lexie Perez)
Lexie Perez

“I found a program and people that I’m so passionate about that I’m willing to make sacrifices elsewhere in my life,” Vanderbilt student manager Jesse Harwin told The Hustler.

On April 18, the VandyBoys earned their 16th consecutive home win when they opened their weekend series against Florida with a 10-5 victory. An integral part of the VandyBoys’ success was the work put in by its five student managers: Donovan Simon, Harwin, Mark Pyburn, Michael Brody and Chris Fitz. You won’t find these names on a box score but they’re the chefs in Tim Corbin’s kitchen that keeps the train moving.

“Their [the student manager’s] role is so widespread,” Corbin said. “They’re selfless because they’re helping other people all the time. It’s never about them. It’s almost like their offensive linemen that are continuing to block for the quarterback, running back and wide receivers all the time. I think the uniqueness of all of them is that they use their personality to blend nicely into the group.”

Jesse Harwin chats with the umpire, as photographed on Apr. 9, 2024. (Hustler Multimedia/Alessandra Salvini) (Alessandra Salvini)

While the first pitch against Florida was not thrown until 6:32 p.m. CDT, the managers began their gameday preparations nearly four hours before the game started.

Harwin, a senior from Mamaroneck, N.Y., studying human and organizational development, arrived at the Vanderbilt Baseball facility at 2:50 p.m. CDT. Harwin had already attended two classes and finished his schoolwork for the day. 

The managers then ate a pre-game meal before setting up batting practice which entailed setting up all the machines, screens, ball buckets and hitting equipment. Once the managers finished the setup for batting practice, they attended Corbin’s 20-minute team classroom session.

“It is so centered on developing them [the players] as people over players first,” Harwin said about Corbin’s classroom sessions. “That was something that I was certainly not expecting, but in retrospect, I think it’s the best class I’ve taken at Vanderbilt.”

Classroom sessions do not convene only on game days. Corbin’s classroom sessions are held six times per week both during the season and in the offseason. Corbin often preaches the importance of taking pride in everything you do and competing with yourself.

“Every time there’s a foul ball hit to the net, I’m going to work my a— off,” Harwin said. “I just think that you could maximize every opportunity that you have if you focus on those details and take pride.”

After classroom concluded, the managers trotted onto the field and were in charge of shagging the balls during Vanderbilt’s 45-minute batting practice. 

Right around 5 p.m. CDT, the managers congregated in the player lounge for an hour to do school work and play ping-pong against each other to keep a competitive spirit alive.

Then, the managers headed to the field and stood for the National Anthem. 

Four hours later, after running balls during the game and working the game chart,  the managers ate a post-game meal with the team in the player lounge. After that, the five students headed their separate ways and returned to Hawkins Field at 2:30 p.m. CDT the next day.

This type of day has been typical for Harwin for the past two years.

After Harwin’s freshman year, he spent the summer interning for the St. Paul Saints. During his time in Saint Paul, Minn., Harwin received an email sent to the entire Vanderbilt student body about an application to become a student manager. For Harwin, applying was a no-brainer and he has been all in ever since joining the staff.

Harwin’s fellow senior manager, Simon, has also been embraced by the Vanderbilt family for the past few seasons. Simon is the longest-tenured student manager in the program and has embraced the VandyBoys’ culture. He has been infatuated with baseball since he was four years old and that love only deepened when baseball was taken away from him during his senior year of high school due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Chicago native had an opportunity to play baseball with his brother Brandon at The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. Simon elected to go to Vanderbilt though, thanks to being offered a financial package that would have been “ridiculous to turn down.”

Donovan Simon chats with Alan Espinal on the bench as photographed on Apr. 9, 2024. (Hustler Multimedia/Alessandra Salvini) (Alessandra Salvini)

Once Simon got to Vanderbilt, his love for baseball grew fonder. Simon contacted Ro Coleman, a former Vanderbilt player and founder of the “Two Percent Podcast”. Coleman, who rejoined the VandyBoys in the summer of 2023 as the second recipient of the Maggie Corbin Minority Baseball Apprenticeship, played on the same travel team as Simon. Coleman was able to secure Simon a position as a student manager in August of 2021. 

I’m not just a manager when I’m with this group of guys.

— Donovan Simon

Simon has fostered strong relationships in his three seasons as a part of Corbin’s program. After graduation, Simon will be working in baseball operations for the Cincinnati Reds. Simon credits his connection with Enrique Bradfield Jr. for landing the job. A vice president at the Reds asked Bradfield Jr. at the 2023 MLB Draft Combine in Phoenix, Ariz, who he should hire to be a scouting intern. Bradfield Jr. immediately thought of Simon. Simon worked with the Reds last summer and received a return offer nearly six months ago.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that I’m absolutely enamored with the sport of baseball and that’s all I want to be around for the rest of my life,” Simon said. “The baseball world is my oyster.”

Similarly to Simon, Pyburn hopes to work in baseball. Pyburn is in his first year as a student manager at Vanderbilt. Before coming to West End in the fall of 2023, the junior spent his first two collegiate years playing baseball at Centre College. The Nashville native and Montgomery Bell Academy alumnus has smoothly blended into the locker room this season. Pyburn grew up attending Vanderbilt games and hopes to be a sports agent after graduation.   

Pyburn now is not the only newcomer as Chris Fitz joined the team at the start of the season to help in the bullpen catcher role. Fitz hails from Mitchell, Ky. The senior will receive a degree in Chemical Engineering.

The sole underclassman is Brody, who is a second-year student from Westport, Conn. Brody is studying economics and has embraced the role of being the “numbers guy.” The incoming wealth management intern at Morgan Stanley works daily with pitching coach Scott Brown and director of player development Brandon Barak to help leverage Vanderbilt’s technology systems. Brody works with pitchers to offer them tangible insights into their game. During games, Brody is often in the press box working with the Trackman and uses analytics to help the players understand their metrics. Brody, a die-hard Boston sports fan, has embraced the nickname “Metric Mike.”

While the student managers have put in tireless amounts of unpaid work this season, they do not view their jobs as anything less than a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The pride in the managers’ eyes is a testament to Corbin’s inclusive culture.

“We would not be able to function without those kids,” Corbin said. “The way they get along with one another and the way they celebrate with one another is next level. Their maturity is next level. Their intelligence is next level. They continually reward us.”

All of the student managers dream of donning a National Championship ring. The five managers are yet to be part of a team that has made it to Omaha, Neb. Three of the five managers have earned hardware though. Last spring, Vanderbilt defeated Texas A&M in the SEC Tournament in 2023

“Winning the SEC tournament was awesome, but I don’t think I’ll remember the SEC Tournament as much as I’ll remember the bus ride back to Nashville afterward,” Simon said. “I’m not just a manager when I’m with this group of guys.”

As some of the student managers’ tenure is waning, the seniors will cherish most the indelible memories made at Hawkins Field, in the classroom and on the road at team meals.

“Every couple of weeks I pinch myself,” Harwin said. “The people and the program are so incredible.”

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About the Contributors
Andrew Wilf
Andrew Wilf, Former Sports Editor
Andrew Wilf (’24) is Sports Editor for The Vanderbilt Hustler. He is from Livingston, N.J., and is majoring in history and minoring in business. He joined the sports staff his freshman year, previously serving as a Staff Writer, Assistant Sports Editor and Deputy Sports Editor. Beyond writing for The Hustler, he is also the host of Anchor Analysis, Commodore Clash and Live From West End. In his free time, Andrew enjoys watching the NFL and playing golf. He can be reached at [email protected].
Lexie Perez
Lexie Perez, Graphics Editor
Lexie Perez (‘26) is from Northern Virginia and is majoring in climate studies and human and organizational development and minoring in business in the College of Arts and Science. She enjoys listening to 70s and 80s pop music, doing the daily Wordle and rooting for the Nashville Predators and Cincinnati Bengals. She can be reached at [email protected].
Alessandra Salvini
Alessandra Salvini, Staff Photographer
Alessandra Salvini (‘27) is majoring in political science in the College of Arts and Science. Outside of The Hustler, she loves live music, sports and being outdoors. She can be reached at [email protected].
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