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Corbin takes Commodores to the top

Kingswood grad leads Vanderbilt baseball team to College World Series

WOLFEBORO’S TIM CORBIN guided the Vanderbilt University baseball team to its first College World Series appearance last month. Courtesy Photo. (click for larger version)
July 11, 2011
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — It took a while to get through the door, but now that the door's been knocked down, the man leading the charge is hoping that it's down for good.

Wolfeboro's Tim Corbin led his Vanderbilt University baseball team to its first College World Series last month, finally pushing through a door the team had been knocking on for a number of years.

"We've knocked on the door a couple of times," Corbin said. "But this time we were able to knock the door down."

While Corbin himself had made numerous trips to the College World Series while an assistant coach at Clemson, the Vanderbilt team had never made it that far and Corbin had been striving to get his team there since he took the helm back in 2002.

Corbin graduated from Kingswood Regional High School in 1979 and spent a year at Kimball Union Academy before playing baseball at Ohio Wesleyan University. After a year coaching the JV program at Kingswood, he went on to the head job at Presbyterian College before moving on to be an assistant coach at Clemson and then on to the head job at Vanderbilt.

After nine years with the Commodores, Corbin had seen his fair share of talent come through the system (Tampa Bay lefty David Price played for Corbin), but had yet to get a team into the College World Series until this year. And he wants to keep bringing his team back year after year.

"Trying to get back there every year is a goal," he said. 'Once you find your way one time, there's a road map for getting back the second and third time."

The Commodores finished the season at 54-12 and though they lost to Florida twice in the College World Series, eliminating them after four games, Corbin was incredibly pleased with how things went for his team.

"We did very well for the first time out," he said. "I think it's tough for a lot of teams trying to navigate this thing their first time because of all the ancillary things outside of the game.

"This thing was different than playing our weekend conference tournaments," he added.

However, Corbin was quick to point out that Vanderbilt's conference, the South Eastern Conference (SEC) does a good job of preparing kids for the big time because so many of the teams in the conference are very successful.

"I thought the kids handled the media pretty well," he said. "I don't think it was as traumatic for our team as it was for other teams."

Corbin pointed out that the SEC conference tournament also featured a good flock of media and prepared his kids a bit for what they encountered when they reached Omaha, Neb., the site of the College World Series.

That being said, finishing second in the conference was quite an achievement in a conference like the SEC.

"We took this team to a second place finish in the conference," Corbin said. "There's something admirable about that."

Over the course of their 54-12 season, Corbin's Commodores lost two games in a row only once and they played fellow College World Series teams Florida and South Carolina a total of 10 times, finishing at 2-2 against eventual-champion South Carolina and 1-5 against Florida, accounting for seven of the team's 12 losses on the season.

"That speaks highly of our conference," Corbin said, noting that three teams from the same conference making the College World Series has never happened before.

But getting to the World Series is something Corbin is looking forward to doing again.

"It's very difficult to do in our conference," he said. "But we've developed a mindset and a goal to try and be one of those eight teams."

Looking back over yet another successful season, Corbin points to his team's consistency as the thing that he thinks got the Commodores to where they ended up.

"The consistency of the team throughout the year was our greatest accomplishment," Corbin said. "There were no player issues, no parent issues. It was a selfless group of kids who were invested in each other from day one to the end."

And the veteran coach knew enough to make sure his kids realized what a special experience they had.

"I told them, you'll want to carry this experience on to other parts of your life," Corbin said. "Use this team as a model for how groups can work so well."

And it all started on the very first day the players got together.

"We got rid of I and me on the very first day," Corbin said. "From that day on, it became we and us and that held throughout the entire year."

And the group that got along so well featured some of the top players in the country, as Vanderbilt had 12 players drafted in the most recent Major League Draft, the most of any school in the country, and a new SEC record.

Junior pitcher Sonny Gray went 18th overall to Oakland, while fellow junior pitcher Grayson Garvin was selected as a supplemental first-round pick by the Tampa Bay Rays.

Junior third baseman Jason Esposito went to Baltimore in the second round and junior pitcher Jack Armstrong (Houston), junior first baseman Aaron Westlake (Detroit) and sophomore pitcher Corey Williams (Minnesota) all went in the third round. Senior pitcher Mark Lamm was chosen by Atlanta in the sixth round, while senior catcher Curt Casali was chosen by Detroit in the 10th round. Junior pitcher Navery Moore was chosen in the 14th round by Atlanta and sophomore pitcher Will Clinard was taken by Minnesota in the 30th round. Junior outfielder Joe Loftus rounded out the Commodore draftees, as he was taken in the 46th round by Arizona.

While Corbin noted that coaching contributes to the success of the player development and praised his assistant coaches, he also noted that Vanderbilt has a facility that is second to none in college baseball.

"The school spent $10 million on development facilities," Corbin said. "We have the resources and the funding to develop these kids."

But one aspect that he believes contributes even more to his players' success is the fact that Vanderbilt is so well-respected in the academic communities.

"You are getting good kids to begin with," Corbin stated. "If you don't want to invest in academics, then you don't belong here."

Corbin notes that the kids have long days, going to class from 8 a.m. to noon, then from 12:30 p.m. to well into the evening the players are on the field. Then they head home for homework.

"It's long days," he said.

But Corbin knows that while baseball is important, the value of the Vanderbilt education his players are receiving is considerably more important.

"Pro baseball is one thing, I know it's a goal," he said. "But getting that degree is putting a lottery ticket in your back pocket.

"These kids will make it, but they've got that lottery ticket," he continued.

With the World Series over, Corbin and his staff are back at work in the recruiting process, looking for that next crop of Commodores that will help keep the tradition of College World Series trips alive well into the future.

Corbin's Commodores had a relatively successful inaugural trip to Omaha. The team beat the University of North Carolina twice during the tournament, but was knocked out of contention by a pair of losses to conference foe Florida. The Gators went on to lose to fellow conference power South Carolina, who won the title for the second year in a row.

While Corbin will remain busy preparing for next season and looking ahead to building his program, he notes that there's one thing that will not change.

"It's always nice to get back home," Corbin said. "There's only once place I'll spend Christmas, and that is New Hampshire."

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