Tuesday, April 1, 2008
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.