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Widely considered a cerebral, unemotional manager, Vanderbilt Commodores skipper Tim Corbin tore into his team Wednesday night in Omaha for being “tentative” and “not playing to win.” ESPN cameras captured the impromptu team meeting in the middle of the fourth inning after opposing team Stanford had just put up two more runs to go up 4-0.
Corbin was visibly heated and pointed fingers at his team, a team which came into Omaha as the betting favorite but were just one loss away from elimination after a 1-0 loss to North Carolina State Monday night. After twelve scoreless innings spanning two games, Corbin had seen enough, and decided to light a fire under his lifeless Commodores.
Vanderbilt center fielder Enrique Bradfield Jr. said after the game that Corbin “basically let us know we had to fight. We had a decision to make—if we were [going to] go out like this or fight.”
The outburst worked, as Vandy immediately scored two runs in the bottom of the fourth, followed by two more in the sixth, and finally a pair in the bottom of the ninth. The Commodores ended up winning on a walk-off wild pitch to keep their CWS hopes alive.
Baseball is a funny game of momentum and belief. To be successful at the highest level, the team really has to bring enough camaraderie to weather all of the storms that the game creates. Other sports are so fast-moving that players can let instinct and physicality take over in high-pressure situations. In baseball, though, all you have is time—time to think, time to worry, and just a little time to react. The best way to settle those nerves that Corbin spoke about is to inject some reckless excitement into the game, to focus with intensity and get out of your own head.
And that’s exactly what Corbin was able to muster from his players with that colorful pep talk. Every championship-caliber team has to go through that dark night of the soul and decide if they are going to crumble, or if they are going to peak at the right time. It’s the ‘edge’ that athletes talk about—the zone. And now that Vanderbilt has found it again, you’d think they are chomping at the bit to get another shot at the Wolfpack.
Corbin arguably doesn’t get enough credit for what he’s been able to build at Vanderbilt since 2003. A perennial SEC doormat prior to his arrival, Vanderbilt is now often the best team in the conference and a contender for championships year after year. “Championship” is not a word Vandy fans get to use very often.
Baseball managers at all levels face unique scrutiny, given the immediate payoff of their decisions: the pinch hitter either gets on base or doesn’t; the relief pitcher either gets through the inning or he doesn’t. All of the blame or glory falls on the manager’s shoulders.
But what makes Corbin so special is what he did in that dugout in the middle of the inning. He tapped into an intangible quality of baseball that can’t be recorded in the box score, and as a result, forever altered the legacy of his team. They’re still alive, and it’s because their manager has been in this situation many times before. It’s the main reason a player would likely even choose college over becoming a professional. Great managers like Corbin have the ability to get something out of their players like a gifted teacher does in the classroom.
Vanderbilt gets their chance at revenge against the Wolfpack of NC State Friday at 1 p.m. CT.