Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Play Ball!

As the Major Leagues begin another season, I am reminded how big a sport baseball has become again at Vanderbilt. That's much like it was when our Centennial class was on campus.

As Tim Corbin has done with his Commodores since he came to Nashville in 2003 (going to the NCAA Tournament almost every year and winning the SEC Regular Season and Tournament Championships last year), so Larry "Smokey" Schmittou (he's in the center of the photo above) did for the Black and Gold starting in the late 1960s.

While we were in school, Coach Schmittou built a program that set new records each year for most wins (33, 35,36 and 37 from 1971-1974) and won back to back SEC championships in 1973 and 1974 (our first baseball championships in school history).

Under Schmittou's guidance the team won the SEC Eastern Division three years in a row from 1972-1974 (yes, even before the league expanded and went to divisions in almost all sports in the early 1990s). Vandy then won back to back league crowns by sweeping Western Division champs Alabama in the SEC playoffs two years in a row (no 8-team, double elimination post season tournament in those days).

I had the great fortune to broadcast the championship series my senior year and was at the mic when the final batter struck out and we won the pennant. It rates as one of my fondest memories while I was at Vanderbilt and the deciding pitch was thrown by a member of our Class, John McLean, who was one of several great hurlers on that squad (including fireballer Doug Wessel and All-American Jeff Peeples).

My other great Vanderbilt baseball memory comes from a mid-season weekday game during the 1973 championship season against the University of Tennessee. Early on, our guys got cuffed around pretty good and fell way behind. But then came a furious ninth inning rally which climaxed with the bases loaded, the Commodores behind three runs, and centerfielder Tommy Powell (another Class of '73 member) up to the plate.

Tommy crushed a pitch from the UT relief hurler over the fence (I actually belive it wound up on top of the swimming pool in Memorial Gym), plating four runs and giving Vandy a very sweet 9-8 victory!

I think I still remind Tommy about that home run almost every time I see him....and he never seems to get tired of it :) Tommy is on the left in the picture above. The other player (with the catcher's glove on the right in photo) is catcher Greg "Radar" Collins, who led the 1973 team in homers with nine.

So what are your memories of Vanderbilt baseball? Remember sitting down the right field or left field lines and heckling the opposing players (especially whatever poor persons were playing first base or left or rightfield)? How about just enjoying the warm sunshine and maybe some smuggled-in "refreshments" while watching the game? Please leave your thoughts below.

For those of you not in Nashville, you'll be happy to know Vanderbilt still plays baseball in the same part of campus, right next to the football stadium, where they were 35-plus years ago. But now it is a wonderful little stadium, called Hawkins Field, where you can actually find a nice chair-back seat down the first or third base lines, and the left field wall looks a like the Green Monster in Fenway Park in Boston (hey, our coach is from New England and he loves the Sox). Be sure and check it out when you come to Reunion October 24-25.


vandypitcher said...

thanks for the vanderbilt baseball notes..we( mark bode..class of 1973 ) got the baseball tradition started..in 1971 i guess with the first SEC eastern division win...jeff peeples was the leader but actually before him was elliot jones ( his son warner was a recent all american at vandy, elliot was 9-5 in 1969 as an all SEC pitcher and pitched in the PITT organ ) and mike willis ( pitched in the big leagues for 5 yrs ) , and steve estep ( all SEC ) and bill winchester ( all SEC )and jerry reasonover ( all SEC ) and jimmy conn( all SEC and played in the dodgers organ) and my favorite catcher, chuck boyett,those guys were great and laid the foundation for SEC championships...then for the class of 1973 the future all american :jeff peeples lead the way followed by his buddy john mclean ( all SEC both he and jeff pitched professionally )we borrowed duane donohue from football and he lead the team in HRs one yr, TOMMY POWELL walked on and " only " became the captain his senior yr and hit MANY big HRs actually...not JUST the biggest one of all..the winning walk--off slam against TENN at home ( for background...peeples had been shutting them out then suddenly gave up 4 straight homeruns to TENN..the week before he had beaten the # 2 team in the nation in CA...USC with the all american OFer..FRED LYNN...i came in leading the nation in ERA ( zero ) after peeples after having beaten the # 1 team in the nation the week before ( arizona st , with THEIR all american , bump wills )out in CA..and gave up 2 MORE HRs to TENN...we were shell--shocked...we had been leading 3--0..their starting pitcher got so excited he juumped up and hit his head on the dugout ceiling...and knocked himself OUT...so they had to go with another guy ...THAT guy loaded em up the next inning and...ole tommy powell took him on top of the swimming pool roof....i believe we won 9--8....it was our year...after i signed to pitch at vandy ( class of 1973 ) schmittou came back to chattanooga and signed 2 of the greatest players ever at vandy...ted shipley and rick duncan ( class of 75..both almost made it to the big leagues ) doug wessel ( 73 ) set an NCAA record for SKs in one game as a freshman ( 23 ) and almost made it to the big leagues later, robert hendrickson was the other captain in 73 ( class of 73 ) and was the very best defensive 2B man in the nation in 1973..and a bunch of the other guys were like class of 73--74 kinda guys who came back for another yr and won the SEC all over again..( steve burger,wayne palmore,etc) greg collins ( 74 ) left after 73 to play pro ball...he was the best catcher in the nation that yr..back then alot of pitchers played " both ways "...mclean and peeples were great hitters as well...mclean led the SEC in HRs one yr...we may have had a shoe--string budget and the worse field in the nation to play on back then ( 1970--1974 ) BUT we had as good of players as have EVER played at vandy, we had the VERY BEST student fans in the SEC ( some classic stories about " fan envolvment " LOL especially against TENN who we all "hated " )we had way more fun than any group of athletes is supose to have, and..we beat EVERYBODY and i mean EVERYBODY in the nation back then..almost our entire team ( except my buddies ed white, tommy powell and me ) played pro ball...something UNHEARD-OF back then..and we truely set the pace for vanderbilts winnings sport : baseball ( with the help of the great jess neely , coach larry schmittou , and our great great student fans back then )......mark bode ( class of 73 ) ( PS : we all miss jeff peeples very much , jeff sadly died a few yrs ago..if ANYBODY was to live forever...it would have been HIM )

vandypitcher said...

thought i would pass on another story from the greatest baseball years of them all...1970--1974 ( though what coach TIM has done with these guys lately is just amazeing and extreamly exciting...but hell...they have like more than 1 set of uniforms, eat at places OTHER than " burger kings " on the road, have an actual level field ( shoulda seen 3B back WHEN LOL ) , have more than 1 bat issued to them each spring, dont stay at motel 6 ( LOL ) on the road, dont travel to " china " for road trips in a yellow school bus, dont shower and dress in a closet ( swear to GOD we showered at louisville with ONE shower spicket only and it was a &*&^&*^ing HOLE in the wall..water just tumbled out and i wont begin to count the number of road locker rooms that had ONE shower option only C O L D ( water )..we stayed at one hotel ( lexington ) each yr where ALL freshman stayed in ONE room....course there WERE advantages too : visiting 3B men had to wear combat helmets and fielded collectively about .333 in those yrs...the dougout ceilings were so low that if you jumped up in excitment withOUT a combat helmet on you WOULD knock yourself out ( ask TENNs starting pitcher in 1973 the day tommy powell marched into vanderbilt athletic legend and became a fixture around campfires all--over VANDYLAND when vandyites partake of the bottle ( or SOMETHING ) and start singing the stories of great vandy wins over the big bad VOLS the last 1000 years ..the TENN VOL pitcher that april 1973 day knocked himself out jumping up and down in the dugout and couldnt return to the mound ( or to " the real world " for that matter for days..he stayed in happyland in the hospital...poor guy ) and tommy measured up his replacement for a 495 ft " columbian necktie " ( something like that ) straight over the swimming pool roof in left field WITH the bases loaded ofcourse ( hey..thats how " deadly " tommy powell worked back then...when he worked..he worked BIG ) by the way....the newspapers said the next day that there were close to 10,000 people there that day...now think about that..the beautiful new stadium ( and it IS beautiful...looks like a small version of the baltimore beautiful new stadium that " CAL built " )seats aprox 3,000--3,500 now...and WE ( back in 1970--1974 ) had like some old football bleachers..nothing more..maybe sat 300 people on a COLD day...but there were close to 10,000 people there....when tommy hit the granny to win ( with a 3-2 count AND 2 out mind you...just for " effect " he said later LOL ) THAT was THE loudest roar( as the ball left the earth's atmosphere ) i have EVER head and i have been " there " for MANY great baskets wins , many great football wins ( OVER TENN mind you ) but THAT..was the loudest..i was in dolphin stadium in 2003 when 65,000 of us sang " good bye " to kerry woods in the 7th as the marlins whipped the cubs ( the marlins went on the win the WS that yr ) but even THAT was not as loud...any way....my favorite TENN ( fan participation ) game ( we had the very BEST student fans in the SEC....baseball games had become THE place to be in the spring (because we were winning ofcourse) on campus and it just built and built AND LOL...the students snuck in beer etc so by the " 7th inning strech "...they WERE the " 10th man "...in i think it was 1972 and TENN had a perfectly NUTS OFer by the name of roger mckinney...so happens that he was about 5ft 7 in BUT..he was extreamly tough AND had to be locked up in a insane asylum at night..and he played corner back on the big bad VOL football team...he played left field on their baseball team and THAT could be a problem in our old " stadium " causssssse...there was a space ( only known to OUR somewhat crazy football players to be accurate ) between the left field fence and the brick wall to the swimming pool...well...early in the game mckinney decides he will " rattle " our pitcher big mike willis between innings as mike is warming up...so mckinney ( cant make THIS stuff up folks ) stands right ON TOP of the plate ( instead of 10--20 ft respectfully away ) now...big mike willis is about 6ft 3 in ...about 225 back then...played deff TACKLE in highschool...i had personally NEVER seen him in what EYE would describe as a " GOOD" mood on a baseball field and that was 3 yrs of living with him all yr on the baseball team so he had had a CHANCE to be in a " good mood " you know....ONCE any way...oh well.....mike also threw his fastball right below the speed of sound ..maybe 92--95 back then ( wessel threw HIS ABOVE the speed of sound but THAT is an entirely different story ) and for you " non baseball " types..the AVERAGE MAJOR LEAGUE fastabll TODAY is about 89 MPH OK...AVERAGE...if you think big mike " didnt have what i am talking about " ...go click on : guys who pitched in the MAJOR LEAGUES and you will find big mike willis's name for five ( 5 ) years in the big leagues....bottom line...i dont care WHO you are...if you are not in a german TIGER tank with the lid LOCKED...dont piss off mike willis on the way to your next AB...so mike sizes up the situation and says to himself " this idiot is trying to show me up infront of MY fans on MY field " ..kinda like being called out to the OK corral...well...LOL...big mike jerked his smokewagon ( see wyatt earp for interpreation ) and knocked roger mckinney on his tenn vol ACE with his next " warm up " pitch ..only THIS ONE was thrown at 95 MPH at an orange batting helmet instead of the usual maybe 75 MPH at the catchers glove ..in front of thousands of mikes best friends and fans...the place went crazy...mckinney jumped up as if to launch a counter attack and he is looking UP at big mike on TOP of the mound...so he sees this big burley lefthander ( ie : that means MIKE is crazy also...ALL lefthanders are crazy...by baseball deffinition ) standing about 7ft 6 inches ( we had BIG mounds back them ( thank you GOD ) 225 lbs smiling like a soldier with a loaded thompson looking DOWN at him...( not to mention 4,000 of his closest friends about 20 yards to his left behind the 1B dugout ..JUICED UP..dying for an excuse to pour onto the field for " brawl exercises " as the 10th man ) ...well the crowd " suddenly " ( hey ..this is vanderbilt...the students can do anything...especially " juiced up " LOL ) composes a lovely new song ( we are talking "4,000" sudden composers ) : I WISH I WAS A ROGER MCKINNEY HOTDOG ....la la la ( sounded supiciouly like " i wish i was an ocsar myer weinner " but what the hell....when you are composeing on the run.. )and now "4,000 " juiced-up students have become a lovely chorus...i mean they heard the vandy chorus practing back in knoxville ( boy was THAT another story...ever been in a FRUIT rain ? for 9 innings ?? LOL ) well...ole roger ends up on 2nd base one trip up and now decides he will " really get big mike back " ..so he starts...what else...a DUST STORM.....a %^&*&^(*ing DUST storm ( which DOES work with 30 MPH gusts and a dry dirt infield...trust me ) roger figures ( remember...we are talking BIG ORANGE mentallity...AND their crazy # 1 on campus ) so roger mckinney grabs HUGE piles of dirt and starts throwing them ( ? them ? it ? whatever ) in the air and sure enough..pretty soon...vandybaseballLAND DOES in fact...have a dust storm....now...mike willis just walks off to get a towel...the fans ..well....just drink more beer AND..look for some sort of counter measure AMO...the campus poice call for BACKUP LOL ( AND a paddy wagon for ole roger ) and his coach ..well....tells him he needs to stop playing in the sandbox.....10 mins later you can see again AND....the vandy fans have NOW acquired effective counter AMO....2 innings later ole roger strools to the plate again ( AFTER mike is through warming up THIS time ) and start in on their favorite new song...ole roger figures " he'll show THEM " and proceeds to show ( with BOTH hands ) what he thinks is the average IQ of the average vandy student ( at THAT point with THAT much beer consumed..well...nahhh....not ONE..a ROCK has a better IQ than ONE ) to this DAY i dont know if mckinney ment for us to ADD his two index fingers he was flying so high in the air OR...if he ment one finger for the fans to the left of him and one finger to the fans to the right of him...( i couldnt ask him after the game..the bus he left in had bars on the windows ) well....the vandy students THOUGHT that ole roger was giving them 2 TARGETS to shoot at sooooooo.....( hey...it was late and those containers back them could carry CASES of beer OK ) OUT CAME THE SECRET AMMO that soldiers OPPS the students had been saving ....ICE ( what else ? ) ole roger had created a DUST storm and the students now created an ICE storm...i mean it WAS an ice STORM....so for the next 10 minutes we had " 4,000 " of vandys finest trained soldiers OPPS students ( hey we DID have ROTC back then ON campus...trust me ) showing off THEIR arms ( looked more like gernade practice but what the hell ) and all you could see was this one little TENN VOL 5 ft 7 in outfielder standing at what use to be the plate area with his 2 index fingers stretching to the sky like lightening rods as 5,000 pounds of ice came raining down on him from the " students section " of the " stands " ( see : the grassy knowl behind the vistors dugout ) ..it seemed that the more beer each student had drank the BETTER his aim was LOL LOL....BUT........ THAT WAS NOT THE FUNNIEST THING TO HAPPEN that day.....it seems that ole rogers sinking IQ knew NO debth that day...it took another 20 mins to clear up the gernade practice area around the plate and resume play once again..( a bulldozer cleared up the debre from the ahh...sudden " hail storm " around homeplate ).....( it was extreamly hard to sit on the bench that day in the dugout and not laugh your ace off...i mean...you are supose to be serious and all but THIS....THIS was true baseball in america back then...and it was funny as hell !!!!! it got NO BETTER than THAT that day at vandyland behind the fottball stadium...no better than that...EVER ) well...it seems that ole roger reconized a few of his vandy FOOTBALL buddies as well that he had knocked heads with each fall on the gridiron...it seems that that " football " had let the football team out of spring practice early that day to come support us and support us they DID !!...now by the 7th inning or so and i " certainly dont think " any of the football players had any beer in the student section ( LOL ) but perhaps they had smelled some of the fumes of the beer consummed ( it was reported 345,000 gallons of beer dissapeared off of the face of the planet that day behind the vistors dugout ) so you had some pretty intense " trash - talking " going on between " football guys " that only college football players can really understand ...problem WAS...the ORANGE clad " football guys " were an army of 1( and a deff BACK at that and a deff back who stood 5ft 7 in at that ) AND...oh by the way...he had a baseball game to finish..( see : he had to stay between these white lines and go into this dugout thing between inngings and could NOT take his bat out to left field when vandy was batting etc ) but the football guys in " black and gold " well....were an army of about 50 LOL LOL and there were NO deff backs and NONE of those guys stood 5ft 7 in....from what i remember ...LOL...it was ALL LINEMEN....BIG UGLY LINEMEN who were ohhh... 6 ft 4 and maybe 250 on avg....and they seemed...well...for whatever reason...kinda primed for battle no matter HOW SMALL the TENN VOL traveling army ( of nuts ) was...well...about the 7th inning these guys walked around to left field BEHIND the fence between the fence and the pools brick wall ( i had never even SEEN anybody go back there ) ..well...i guess ole roger had called them out.......ALL OF THEM out LOL LOL...now i never made a grade above " C " at vanderbilt INCLUDEING MATH and LOGIC courses BUT...LOL....50 ( fifty ) to 1 ???? outweighed 23 TONS to 175 lbs ?? i guess ole roger thought he was safe with this big high fence in left field between him and this angry mob full of VERY LARGE college football players just DYING to be " called out " by a TENN VOL....ofcourse i didnt hear THAT trash--talking that was going on but talking about burning the ears of all angels in the vacinity.....LOL>...well....the game is going on but you kinda had this feeling that all hell was going to break out very very soon...i glanced down to left field again all of a sudden and...well...TENN was playing withOUT a left fielder ( no..he hadnt been shot LOL yet..) i mean their pitcher is throwing and there is NO LEFT FIELDER LOL !...where is he ?? LOL....he is ON THE FENCE....about 10 feet up in the air ( big, tall chainlink fence ) ..to catch bill winchesters next HR ?? noooo....his BACK is to the field...his glove is ON THE GROUND....half of his body is now ABOVE the top of the fence and he is...well.....trying to exchange punches with 50 of vanderbilts largest and toughest football players OVER THE FENCE !!!!! this guy ( who TENN swears DID go to a FEW college classes in his 4 yrs in knoxville ) is firing rights and lefts over the fence and there are 50 rights and lefts trying like hell to fire back and connect with his jaw...WHILE AN SEC BASEBALL GAME IS GOING ON !!..there are 51 football players all over the left field fence having a good ole TENN VOL..VANY brawl....i was so stunned ( that ANYbody could be THAT stupid..even a TENN VOL ) that i could not even laugh...i was just amazed....( and glad " the 50 " were on OUR side ) ..needless to say ole rogers face looked like mash potatoes and the vandy football guys were laughing their aces off for an hour ( its stuff like that that campfire songs are madeup of ) ...yeah the SEC kinda got mad at " vandy " and the next game the next day between vandy and tenn at gettysberg OPPS at vandys baseball yard had like 1,000 national guard guys there...and the next yr in knoxville ( 1973 ) was kinda interesting ( if you like FRUIT rain ( bombs ) for 9 innings ) BUT...in 1975 if everybody remembers....football went into knoxville and BEAT the big bad VOLS to show that THEY WERE tough and good as well......i was there and did not ever want to leave NEEEEEland stadium after the game was over..( ever seen 100,000 big orange fans crying on a cool crisp fall afternoon as they quietly file out of the largest stadium on the planet ?? its a beautiful thing ... )..mark bode class of 1973....baseball

vandypitcher said...

here are a few more funny 1970-1974 baseball stories..basketball had signed 2 " street--tough " players from NYC...i think 1971 was their freshman yr..one was billy " around the world " smith ( cause he hade been around the world i think ) and the other i think was ben skipper...any way they were both shooters and they decided to tie bells ( cant make this stuff up ) onto their shoe laces of their sneeks during games so every time they went up for a jumper...ring ring ring....well i guess after a few " 2 for 16 " games and the vandy coaches decided the musical jumpshots were not such a good idea but the SEC beat them to it and passed an emergency " you cant tie bells to your shoelaces during NCAA games " rule in the middle of the season....well i guess one or both decided it would no longer be fun to play basketball at vandy and one or both left school....but i guess " the school " didnt get the message cause......at least one of the rooms was left empty...so a few weeks later all of the athletes on my floor in tower # 1 get a knock on our doors and are told to go over to ( tower # 2 ? i forget ) because there is a " movie " being made...LIVE...( in ,i believe, billy around the worlds old room ) and the " seats " are going fast....so we go over there and there must have been 40 guys in the hall sitting down watching or listening to what was going on in billys old room....to put it mildly...there was a festive athmosphere...at least half of the athletes in the hall way went up to the ahhh " movie set " and applied for a job to be in the " movie "...every time the " lady " actress came out of the room for a " breather " she recieved a standing ovation from her fans OPPS from the audience....it went on for a couple of hours if i can remember right...it was hilarious...you get that many athletes needing to blow off steam in that kind of environment and you are gonna laugh your ace off...and back then that was all a " no no "...quadroupleing the spice and humor...mark bode "73

vandypitcher said...

another funny baseball story...it was the spring of 1970 and schmittou was shooting for a top 20 kinda yr....tons and tons of wins...they had a winning season the yr before ( mostly on the arms of elliot jones and big mike willis ) and schmittou had now brought in doug wessel ( the top college freshman pitcher in the country without a doubt ) , jeff peeples ( he didnt really hit his big stride till the next yr )willis was better than ever..john mclean came in...alex thompson, there was suddenly a TON of pitching ( yell i didnt see the mound till 1/2 way through the season )and jeff love was ready to lead the world in hitting, estep , winchester, jimmy conn ( soon to sign with the dodgers ) tommy powell came aboard...duane donahue, etc etc....any way we play KY on a sat right before we head to florida for our spring trip...at home....its miserable...20 degrees, raining, it got dark really early in nashville in early march back then...well we beat KY and have a really good record...maybe 8--2 something like that..maybe 10--2...but coach schmittou had scheduled ANOTHER game before we got on the bus...either against KENYON or CALVIN college ( neither powerhouses OK )what you call " schedule padders "...the game was to start about 3:30 at our field which has no lights..........meaning you pray you can win 1-0 in a very fast game before its called for darkness...but alass the best laid plans of mice and men....something like that....runs are scored by both teams with ease...and its raining harder and harder and...its getting REAL dark.......somebody hit a high popup around the plate..way way out of sight...and it comes down and.....dissapears ...dissapears in THE MUD !! it sank out of sight !!...i think we are down by 1 ..something like that ( remember football practiced in right field when we didnt have a game so there were LIGHT POLES in right field with the lights pointing....kinda straight down...like church league softball lights...and there were maybe......12 lightbulbs....not 12 light poles LOL....and its dark...REAL dark but coach schmittou wont let it go....he WANTS this win...the umpires are like : come ON coach....this is rediculous...its pouring down rain....cold as can be ( not KY cold but cold )the field is a swamp...and you cant see the 3rd baseman....so coach schmittou has the FOOTBALL lights turned on...and the lights on the side of the football stadium ( nobody had ever even seen those lights before...they must have been used by football for practice back before the french and indian war )..he has everybody turn on their car lights, office lights within a mile of the field...cigerette lighters, we start a bonfire in the dugout in this big oil drum ...and the lighting improves about........3%....this is NCAA baseball !!...LOL...anyway i think the umpires let him get away with that circus for an inning or so then they called the game ..i am 99% sure we lost........it was pitch dark..and raining cats and dogs...and coach schmittou was trying every trick in the book to squeeze another inning....then another....etc...one of the stories of which vandy baseball is built on.....and look where they have taken it now....what an incredable ride and what great history....mark bode '73