Gramps, old man, super senior. Vanderbilt catcher Andrew Giobbi has heard it all before. As one of two fifth-year seniors on the roster (Brian Harris is the other) in a sport that is short on four-year seniors, Giobbi is used to hearing the sarcastic remarks that accompany his seniority in the locker room.
It doesn’t mean he necessarily always likes the constant ribbing he gets from his teammates, but he understands it. After all, his Vanderbilt career began when this year’s college freshmen were just starting high school.
Giobbi’s freshman class included Pedro Alvarez and high school teammate Ryan Flaherty, both of whom are beginning their second seasons of minor league baseball. When Giobbi signed with Vanderbilt out of high school in Portland, Me., he, too, thought he would be playing professionally by now.
“At that age, I think a lot of kids are short-sighted and they want a three-year career, get paid and get out of here,” Giobbi said. “That’s a decision you have to make. If you don’t get the money that you want, do you take less or do you come back to school?”
Instead of playing professionally, Giobbi has become a leader in the locker room and on the field for the Commodores, all the while playing with another Flaherty—Regan, a freshman, who is Ryan’s younger brother.
“It is funny to think about because I knew Regan as such a little kid,” Giobbi said. “It is strange to think of him grown up now. Now that Ryan is gone, I kind of feel like a big brother to him.”
Watching as classmate after classmate goes on to play professionally can be difficult for a player who once thought he, too, would be playing at the next level by now. Vanderbilt Head Coach Tim Corbin knows it takes a certain traits to flourish in that role.
“It takes a very resilient person to do that,” Corbin said. “There are not a lot of people who can do that. He and Brian Harris are two kids that could play professional baseball and I hope will. Jokingly, he has played with two Flahertys, but probably only thought he was going to play with one.”
“To be here for five years, play with younger kids, have the patience level with younger kids and patience level for a coach that expects the same thing from his freshman year going on to his fifth year, it takes a very resilient person.”
Giobbi has embraced his role on the team as an eldest statesman. It’s the type of leadership role that Giobbi thrives in.
“Being a senior comes with a lot of responsibility,” Giobbi said. “It is more of an attitude change than an on the field change. There are a lot of mechanisms that you have to use. For example, if you have a bad at bat, you can’t really show the kind of emotion you may want to show because a younger player is going to see what you or someone else is doing and are going to repeat those actions.”
It is because of reasons like that that Giobbi is the backbone of Vanderbilt’s 2010 drive to Omaha. His voice resonates in the locker room with teammates. He’s won SEC regular season and tournament titles and has a proven track record as a player.
“It can be really important to have a kid in your program that has been here for five years that knows the lay of the land and that has been on teams that have been very successful as he was in 2007,” Corbin said. “He’s seen a lot of competition and can pass on his knowledge and calmness to the younger guys. That helps a coaching staff when a kid can do it. When he is behind the plate, it probably helps even more so because of the leadership capabilities that are there.”
As someone who is a natural leader, the catching position couldn’t be a better fit for Giobbi, who is in his second season as Vanderbilt’s starting catcher.
“You are the quarterback on the field, and that is exactly how I look at being a catcher,” Giobbi said. “I try to align the defense, I try to handle the pitching staff as well as I can and call the pitches. There is a lot of responsibility, but there is also a lot of reward.”
Giobbi saw his responsibilities increase toward the end of last season when he was granted the right to call pitches, a responsibility previously held by pitching coach Derrick Johnson. Although it adds to his responsibilities as a catcher, it’s a role he enjoys and knows will help him in the future.
“Seeing D.J. calling the pitches for so many years, I can pretty much tell him what he is going to call before he even calls it,” Giobbi said. “There is a little more pressure on me, but once the pitch is called and the guy executes the pitch, it is on me if it gets hit.”
Having a veteran backstop behind the plate has also helped Vanderbilt’s pitching staff this season. His experience and familiarity with the pitching staff has helped the pitchers be more comfortable on the mound.
“He brings leadership on the field, and that’s a position that you have to have leadership to run the show defensively,” senior pitcher Drew Hayes said. “He brings a mentality of being around here and knowing the ins and outs of pitch calling. That understanding brings a comfort level to the pitchers knowing that he knows what he is doing back there.”
Giobbi was born with baseball in his blood. His father, Mike, was drafted out of high school as a pitcher by the Chicago Cubs. His brother, Nick, pitched at the Division III level. Instead of pitching, Giobbi was put behind the plate at a young age. “I think they just stuck me behind the plate to catch my brother,” joked Giobbi.
Giobbi is a catcher at heart, but part of what has made him such a valuable commodity to the Commodores has been his versatility. Between summers in the Cape Cod League and his time at Vanderbilt, Giobbi has played every position besides shortstop and center field since beginning his college career.
His athleticism and understanding of the game have afforded him the opportunity to play many positions, but he also has been forced to learn positions due to injury. Unfortunately for Giobbi, injuries have been a common theme for him the past two years. Last year he missed time during the regular season after fracturing his hand. In 2008 in the Cape Cod League, he was hit in the face by a pitch.
“Injuries forced me into positions in the Cape,” Giobbi said. “There was still a little bit of recurrence there and they didn’t want it to happen again, so I couldn’t go back and catch or play first. Instead, it forced me to play the outfield. I played left field for 10 games or so, and it was very useful.”
No one would have questioned Giobbi had he shut it down for the rest of the summer in order to fully heal from being hit in the face. However, anyone who knows Giobbi understands there is no quit in him. Just 3½ weeks after being hit, Giobbi returned to action wearing a mouth guard and a face guard. His courageous comeback earned him the Cape Cod League’s Manny Robello 10th Player Award, which is presented to the player who performs above and beyond expectations.
“He’s the only kid that I ever would know that would get hit in the face with a baseball, break almost every bone in his face and then almost four weeks later, return to a summer team to play,” Corbin said. “Who does that? No one. That just shows who he is. He is a hardcore player and a hardcore athlete.”
Giobbi returned 3½ weeks later, but the recovery time it took for him to get comfortable in the batter’s box again was longer.
“I don’t think people understand how tough it is to come back from something like that mentally,” Giobbi said. “You flinch a little bit, and it takes a while to get out of that.”
In the case of each injury, the time he spent away from the game made him realize how much he missed it.
“I think last year’s injury really showed me how much I enjoy this game,” Giobbi said. “You step away from the game, and you really realize what it means to you to go out there.”
Giobbi hopes he has many games ahead of him as a player, and if not as a player, then maybe as a coach at the college level.
No matter where his future takes him, Corbin knows he will be successful.
“He is going to be a very successful young man when he leaves here,” Corbin said.
Until then, he’ll continue to hear the banter from his teammates about his age. It’s the type of ribbing he hopes he will continue to hear until the end of June. After then, he’ll be called rookie.