Born To Be A VandyBoy (via Baseball America)

donnyCLARKSVILLE, Tenn.—Cars never drove down the street in front of Forney Abbott’s house.

Born in Houston and raised in 1940s Palestine (No, not the Middle East. Palestine, Texas. Pronounced PaleSTEEN), Abbott’s formative years came before cellphones and Xboxes and color TVs. He didn’t even have a diamond nearby to play on, no chalky foul lines or fertile grass, just the white lines and the hot, black asphalt of a mostly deserted street.

When he was 7, 8 years old, Abbott would take a baseball and march onto that street like he was Joe DiMaggio and it was Yankee Stadium. Instead of throwing from foul pole to foul pole, he’d go light pole to light pole, hurling the ball as far as he could over the power lines that stretched above his head and aiming for the pole 100 yards away.

He did this every day, until one day, a car did drive down the street in front of Forney Abbott’s house. And inside that car were two scouts for Major League Baseball teams, one for the Pirates and one for the Cardinals. Abbott, now 77, doesn’t remember their names—a few too many blows to the head in the boxing matches of his youth sapped him of those memories. But he remembers them stopping their car, on their way to some recruiting mission in nearby Houston or Tyler, and talking to this 7-, 8-year-old kid out on the street and watching him throw. That car would continue to stop, usually once every month or so, and the Pirates scout—who lived in a small town about 15 or 20 miles away—would give the young Abbott pointers. OK, here’s how to throw a baseball.

The scout kept coming by until Abbott was 11 years old. For that, he’s always been thankful. Still, as a teenager, playing for his high school team and summer league teams, Abbott would draw criticism for the way he threw. Other kids would always tell him he was throwing the wrong way. But he knew they were the ones who were wrong. He knew he threw hard. He didn’t have a radar gun to prove it, but he always felt as though God had granted him the ability to throw a baseball with velocity.

Abbott never had the chance to test his arm in the professional ranks. He joined the Army. Served in the Korean War. And when he returned, he moved to Clarksville, Tenn. He turned his attention to coaching kids, just like that Pirates scout once coached him. He felt, again, as though God had given him this gift for a reason. God wanted him to share it.

Over his adult life, Abbott has helped thousands of kids—and some of those kids’ kids. At any time, he could have several 11- or 12-year-olds out in his front yard—instead of in the street like he was—working on drills to strengthen their bodies, arms and minds.

There was one kid, among those thousands, who was different. One kid that no uppercut to the jaw could ever jostle free from his memory.

Abbott will never forget Donny Everett. … Read More

(via Baseball America)

Vanderbilt wins the College World Series, claims its first-ever mens’ national championship

After struggling through the first two games of the College World Series, Vanderbilt came out looking like a team that belonged in the final pairing in a much tighter game three. The Commodores drew inspiration from energetic and emotional starting pitcher Carson Fulmer, who really limited the Virginia bats for the first time this series. Timely hitting finally arrived for Vandy as well: Although they only plated one run in an extended first inning, the only inning for UVA starting pitcher Josh Sborz, VU claimed the only home run of the series, John Norwood’s solo blast that proved to be the game winner, in the eighth. After that, Vanderbilt reliever Adam Ravenelle dealt two innings of solid relief to close the door on Virginia and secure the 3-2 victory. (Fans of the MLB team that drafted Ravenelle, the Detroit Tigers, are already asking whether he’s available to help stem the club’s bullpen woes this season.)

For Vanderbilt, a charter member (1932) of the Southeastern Conference and a university with an interscholastic athletic history dating to the 1800s, last night’s win was especially remarkable, because it was the school’s first-ever national championship for a men’s team, and just its second national championship overall. (The women’s bowling team claimed the school’s first national championship in 2007.) This win certainly feels like the culmination of the steady development of the VU baseball program by coach Tim Corbin, and with a very young roster, it shouldn’t be surprising if his Commodores are back in Omaha next year to defend their title.

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Postscript: Like any overdue collegiate athletic victory, last night featured a post-game marriage proposal. After his team won it all, Vanderbilt pitcher Brian Miller came away with a win of his own as well. Long live college sports.

History at stake in the College World Series finale tonight

The outcome of tonight’s game between Vanderbilt and Virginia will decide the College World Series. A victory for the end of the alphabet is guaranteed, but for Vanderbilt, the stakes are higher: a win would be the school’s first national championship for a men’s team, and only its second overall. (The VU women’s bowling team won it all in 2007.)

After winning game one of the best-of-three series on Monday, the Commodores had a chance to clinch last night. They were unable to hold an early 2-1 lead, however, and ended up falling 7-2. While some are criticizing Vandy coach Tim Corbin’s decision to leave starting pitcher Tyler Beede in to pitch the seventh inning, during which Virginia’s 4-2 lead expanded to a 6-2 lead, the real problem lies with Vanderbilt’s absentee offense. There remains plenty of attention on Vanderbilt’s nine-run third inning in the first game, but UVA still owns the run differential advantage, 15-11, over the two games. Take out that wild third in the opening contest, which was as much a result of an early and unexpected pitching collapse as it was Vandy plate discipline or hitting, and that expands to a 15-2 advantage for Virginia. The truth is that VU has been unable to generate its own offense in this series, and outside of one disastrous frame, Virginia has been in control. The Commodores aren’t a power-hitting bunch, and the conditions in Omaha won’t do anything to change that, but one has to believe the Vandy bats are due to come alive. They must do so tonight if the Dores are going to claim this national championship.

While a Vanderbilt win tonight would make school history, and last night’s bid may itself have been historic as (possibly, I haven’t researched this) the school’s first actual opportunity to win a men’s national championship, the Cav-Hoos are carrying the mantle and burden of a conference into tonight’s game: The ACC has just one College World Series win, and it came in the 1950s, when Wake Forest topped the Broncos of Western Michigan.