On Wednesday, March 11, Vanderbilt baseball crushed midweek matchup Toledo 11-2. That same night, National Basketball Association (NBA) player Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19, leading to the NBA being suspended, and it was clear that the baseball season was about to take a turn.
“We found out on Thursday [March 12] that they were sending the [students] home, and that we would play the weekend, but we were going to play the weekend with no fans,” baseball head coach Tim Corbin said.
Corbin told his players that if he received any more news, he would let the team know.
“Within 15 minutes, I got more news that the Southeastern Conference (SEC) season was suspended,” he continued.
Corbin called a second team meeting. This time, however, the players knew what to expect.
“We are meeting again now so I’m pretty sure he got some bad news,” rising sophomore Isaiah Thomas said in a message to The Hustler that night. Minutes later, Thomas’ worries were confirmed.
Just like that, the 2020 baseball season was finished.
“It was hard to handle,” Thomas said. “We worked so hard for that season [and] we were just starting to reap the benefits of it. But it’s only going to help us going forward. It’s just going to fuel our fire going into next year.”
For the first time in the Corbin era, there’d be no SEC season, no postseason and no Omaha. It was over. The reigning champions couldn’t defend their crown.
“I thought we were a young team,” Corbin said. “We had some holes, but I felt that [by] the end of the year, we had a chance and we could hold on and be pretty good because of the pitching.”
But after years of preparing for anything on-field, Vanderbilt baseball was tasked with a conflict that no one was ready for—a conflict Thomas aptly described as a “heartbreak.”
Distraught by the sudden end to the season, the team was eventually forced to go home, its players moving thousands of miles away from each other. But as they spread out, sticking together was the easy part. While the team looked to find ways to stay active, keeping a personal connection via group messages and video games was not a challenge.
When the players weren’t connecting with each other, they managed to stay on track by keeping a routine, something that Corbin emphasizes with his players.
“Every weekday, I take my mom to work at 7:30 every day, and then after I come home. And [I’ll] make breakfast, and then I work out at 10:00,” Thomas said. “After my workout at 10, I’ll hit, I’ll go back home, eat, and then maybe take a little nap or something. And then after that, it’ll be around the time to pick up my mom.”
This resilience and ability to work no matter the circumstances is a key part of Corbin’s coaching, and this trait is found not only in current players and coaches, but also in alumni. Austin Martin was given the opportunity to train alongside the Blue Jays’ 60-man roster within months of being drafted fifth overall.
“I look at it as a positive thing,” Martin said during a press conference.“Having the opportunity to be able to be around those big league guys and to pick their brains so early in my professional career is a great thing.”
Corbin does not look at this as a lost season, simply an incomplete one.
“It certainly was a season,” Corbin said. “There’s things that mattered. And the fall, it mattered. In the spring, it mattered… but it just wasn’t complete.”
This is the story of a team that emphasizes preparation meeting a situation that could not be prepared for. Like the rest of us, Vanderbilt baseball was put to the test this spring. But it’s clear that the mentality that Tim Corbin instills in his fellow coaches, players and staff has created a resilience that has helped the team stay on their feet. Currently, a dozen VandyBoys are finishing up in summer leagues, and some of the players, including Isaiah Thomas, are working out and taking at-bats.
“I’ve been at my local gym,” Thomas said. He has been working with pitchers at many different skill levels and lifting weights for months now. Thanks to the way in which Corbin runs his program, Thomas and his teammates have used their time wisely in the past months, and are eager to show off when the opportunity comes to play again. So, what’s the theme going into 2021?
“We’re going to be hungry.”