STERN: How Vanderbilt baseball prepares players for life off the field

While Vanderbilt baseball players are known for their production on the diamond, some of their best hits have come off the field.

Tim+Corbin+pictured+in+pregame+warm-ups+during+the+2019+season.

Hunter Long

Tim Corbin pictured in pregame warm-ups during the 2019 season. (Hustler Multimedia/Hunter Long)

Ethan Stern, Staff Writer

My freshman year, I had the opportunity to work as a student-manager for Vanderbilt’s baseball team. Being part of the team’s journey to a national championship was something I will never forget, but strangely enough, the most interesting moment of the year came during a midweek matchup in May.

We were playing Middle Tennessee State University. As I had done all season, I found a seat a couple rows behind home plate. Maggie Corbin, Coach Tim Corbin’s wife, sat in her usual seat behind me, and next to her were a couple of former players. As I watched the game, I overheard a conversation between Mrs. Corbin and the players about what their former teammates were doing after baseball.

It made me think. There will come a day where every player on the roster hangs up his cleats for the last time. For some, the conclusion of their baseball life is a decade away. For others, it’s in a couple of years. So, what happens to the players after they call it quits? I decided to talk to some alumni, and I realized very quickly that Vanderbilt prepares players both for a career in baseball and after it.

Connor Harrell played four seasons as an outfielder at Vanderbilt before being selected in the seventh round by the Detroit Tigers in 2013. He played four strong seasons as an outfielder in the minor leagues and then called it quits after a solid year for the AA Erie SeaWolves. So, what came next?

“When I got done playing baseball in 2017, I took a job at a real estate investment bank,” Harrell said. “[I] worked there for two years doing private equity, and then I took a job in Nashville.” 

Just three years after finishing baseball, Harrell is the Associate Director of Hall Capital, a Nashville-based private equity group. Initially, he said, the transition was odd.

“[It was] definitely different,” said Harrell, who experienced a bit of a culture shock as a 26-year old working his first desk job. “I didn’t have any work clothes, [and] I wasn’t used to working 8 to 8.” 

But while Harrell lacked experience, he excelled in other important skills, to which he credits Corbin’s coaching philosophy. 

“He just teaches you how to be an adult,” Harrell said. “How to balance your time, how to approach things with intent.”

Looking back at his four years at Vanderbilt, Harrell describes Tim Corbin as teacher as well as a coach. According to Harrell, Corbin teaches a very methodical approach to work, which he has utilized with his work at Hall Capital.

Harrell said, “I always tell people now that my parents raised me, but I grew up at Vanderbilt.”

Harrell isn’t the only former Vanderbilt player to succeed after baseball. Infielder Ro Coleman was drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the 34th round of the 2017 MLB Draft. Coleman is best known for making great plays at second base and a walk-off single his freshman season to beat Oregon in the regional tournament en route to the Commodores’ first ever national championship. When the 5-foot-5 freshman stepped into the box, no one was more confident than Ro himself.

“It was a no pressure situation,” Coleman said. “In my mind I was like, ‘I’m gonna end this game right here.’” 

After playing a season in the Tigers organization, Coleman decided to move onto a new line of work. Ro works as a community organizer in Nashville. The Chicago native stated that he always wanted to help the community. While he didn’t see himself living in Nashville long term, he had no trouble transitioning to a life helping underprivileged Nashvillians.

Coleman is the CEO of Empowerment Pursuit, a non-profit that aims to “empower our youth of the future through sports, education, and community development,” as the website states as its vision. Working alongside fellow Vanderbilt alumnus Ryan White and former MLB pitcher Jarrod Parker, Coleman aims to help young athletes both as baseball players and people.

“I wake up around 7 or 8 o’clock every day,” Coleman said. Ro’s mornings are filled with meetings and phone calls with people working in professional sports and on school boards. In the afternoon, Coleman puts down the phone and picks up a bat and some baseballs. “[I] head to the facility and work with kids from about 2 to 6, 2 to 7.”

While Coleman’s path is very different from that of Harrell, both former Commodores credit much of their success to their Vanderbilt careers. When asked about how Vanderbilt prepared him, Coleman mentioned coach Corbin’s classroom meetings, which take place before each and every training session. 

“We were sometimes in the classroom for almost two hours before we went onto the field, and most of the time, we weren’t even talking about baseball,” Coleman said. “It’s about building life skills, and I think those things are important when you’re teaching kids any type of sport.”

Unlike Coleman and Harrell, Julian Infante’s baseball career is far from over. Many Vanderbilt fans remember the first baseman as a fan favorite whose glove, leadership and power made him a key piece of the 2019 championship team. Drafted in the 36th round by his hometown Miami Marlins in 2019, he will continue to work tirelessly to reach the MLB.

But with the suspension of the 2020 minor league baseball season, Infante quickly found himself with even more time to spare, as the newly drafted infielder was not granted a spot on the team’s 60-man player pool. So, what did he do?

He released a drone that works to sanitize stadiums and sports fields from COVID-19. Infante, the Director of Communications for Lucid Drone Technologies, had already been working alongside the company on a drone that could help to wash windows and sides of buildings. But, with the pandemic raging, the company repurposed.

“With everything going on, we have kind of restructured and remodeled into sanitation,” Infante said.

The sanitation drones have already made rounds and recently have been used by Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the home of the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United. But drone technology is not the only occupation that Infante has taken up. During the 2019 season, Infante began taking an online course on real estate and eventually passed the test to become a licensed agent, a job that he quickly found interest in.

Infante said, “it’s great because, one, I like meeting a lot of people. And two, they’re very flexible hours, and you’re in control of your own business.”

Infante praised Corbin for teaching him hard work and time management skills. 

“He kind of taught me work ethic and how you want to be remembered,” Infante said about his former coach. “I think being a part of the Vanderbilt baseball team, you get an idea of how to manage all that and how to take advantage of your full day.”

Another former VandyBoy with an interesting post-baseball story is Alex Feinberg. The former Vanderbilt infielder graduated from Vanderbilt in 2008 and was drafted in the 43rd round by the Colorado Rockies. Over a decade later, Feinberg has been all around the world. After two years of minor league baseball, Feinberg worked in Hong Kong at a hedge fund for a year before moving to Silicon Valley to work for Google. After seven years with Google, he became the director of business development with OKCoin, a cryptocurrency exchange based in San Francisco.

When asked about his journey, Feinberg brought up a valuable connection he had made at Vanderbilt with a loyal fan who ran a hedge fund in Hong Kong. Feinberg worked there for a year, learning about the market through the eyes of the man who once cheered him on as a baseball player.

During a winding journey that took him from baseball to finance to cryptocurrency, communication skills were invaluable for Feinberg, who credits his former coach’s excellence in communication as an influence for his own skillset.

“[Coach Corbin] understands the necessity of not just creating strong group chemistry, but the power of effective communication,” Feinberg said. “He’s probably the best communicator that I have ever been around in my life.”

But this is not all that Feinberg does. On his Instagram @alexfeinberg1, he refers to himself as an “eating model.” He posts pictures of steak, shrimp and other protein-based foods that he cooks, along with workout videos.

“I basically see a lot of people struggling with restrictive diets,” Feinberg said.  “[This is] not the only path or even necessarily the best path to hitting peoples’ fitness goals.”

The sad truth of college sports is that only the best college athletes will find themselves playing professionally. When Feinberg was a senior in 2008, he was one of 36 players on the official roster. Of those 36, only eight ever played in the major leagues, and only two, catcher Curt Casali and LHP Mike Minor, are still playing professional baseball today.

But from what I’ve gathered, I have no doubt that all 36 of these former VandyBoys are doing wonderful things with their lives. These young men were taught time-management, work ethic and the importance of working with intent during their Vanderbilt baseball careers.

“I think one uniformity that Vanderbilt alumni take away is that they’re better when they left than when they got there,” Connor Harrell said. 

No matter what path these young men choose, Vanderbilt baseball prepares players for a life away from the diamond.