KKNOXVILLE -- Whether you like this Tennessee Baseball team or not, it's hard to make an argument that they are not good for College Baseball. What Tony Vitello has been able to accomplish in his short time in Knoxville has sparked a program that was treading water. After winning their 40th game of the season, the noise isn't going to stop anytime soon, especially after pitcher Ben Joyce made headlines this weekend.
This team isn't one to lay down quietly either, as you witnessed on Saturday night when Auburn took the second game of the series and let the Vols know about it. Why is something like this a big deal? Videos of the incident were making their way around the internet after the game, depicting the Vols as a bunch of sore losers that don't know how to take their own medicine. You can call it whatever you like, but the mentions and replies on social media go to show you that Tennessee baseball is on the mind of many.
Now, we've got something new to talk about with the Vols. Knoxville native Ben Joyce is the hot story of college baseball, throwing four innings on Sunday in the win. The story was how fast he was throwing the ball, hitting 105.5mph and sending social media into a frenzy at the same time. Opposing fans that are appalled by this team will now have to deal with further talk about the #1 ranked team in the country. Following the win over Auburn, Joyce was complimentary of his teammates that have supported him on the field.
“I know I have a great defense behind me. I know they’re going to make plays for me back there so it gives you a lot of confidence as a pitcher to just know you can throw strikes and get a ground ball and have a double play there and then one more to get out of it. Having the confidence in the guys behind me really gives you a lot of confidence as a pitcher.”
Ben Joyce will join us on Tuesday to discuss his weekend performance and the juice it takes to hit 105.5 mph on the radar gun.
It was Jordan Beck, one of the most hated guys on the roster by opposing fans, that hit a 2-run homer in the 8th inning to give the Vols a 5-3 lead. He then sat in the outfield and watched his teammate finish off the Tigers in the 9th.
“I’m in the outfield just in awe,” Jordan Beck said. “He’s up there throwing 103 on the normal and I don’t know how many people on this planet can do that. I’m just glad he’s on our team and I’m not facing him.”
Tony Vitello sure as hell wasn't taking Joyce out of the game for one of the Vols closers, not on Sunday.
“I ain’t the smartest fellow, but I ain’t taking that guy out of the game nor are any of the other coaches,” Vitello said.
What Joyce has done over the season is give fans more ammunition in their arguments that we are potentially witnessing one of the historically better SEC teams. How else would you describe a team that is already at 40 wins on the season? But folks are missing the overall point about this team, which is that they are good for baseball.
You can hate them, yell at them, talk on social media about how bad they are for baseball and that Tony Vitello needs to be reminded about the ethics of baseball. Who cares? They are drawing eyes to the sport that is usually on the back-burner on a national level this time of year. I bet if you were scrolling through social media on Sunday afternoon you most likely saw a tweet about some kid at Tennessee throwing over 105 mph in a baseball game.
I know for a fact that SEC fans around the country were loving what they saw Saturday night when Auburn gave it back to Tennessee, winning that game with a late home-run. The social media reactions ranged from "Got what you deserved, Tennessee" or "That's just a classless bunch" as both teams traded pleasantries. You were talking and that's all that matters. If ESPN or the SEC Network were smart, they'd put more college baseball on their channels and not a re-run of the cornhole championships. But that's a story for another day.
What Tony Vitello is doing in Knoxville is bringing life to program that was struggling to find a pulse just five years ago. He's also doing it his way, which doesn't sit well with other coaches and fans in the league. He's taken a program that could barely get 1,000 people for a weekend SEC series and selling out the stadium on a nightly basis. You've got a group of players that have taken on his persona and uses it on the field as motivation, no matter if it comes off a cocky. This reemergence reminds me of what Bruce Pearl did with the basketball program years ago, injecting life into the fan base and not caring what others thought along the way.
There's no magic eight-ball that will tell us how the rest of the season will go for this squad, but everything leading up to this moment is providing examples of how this team could be holding a trophy at the end of the season. There is also the real chance that the Vols find themselves with another early exit in Omaha, if they make it that far. But until then, they will keep playing their type of baseball, upsetting others along the way.
You don't have to like them, but don't tell me they aren't good for the sport. Every story needs a villain and Tennessee has taken on the role in this book.