OMAHA, Neb. - In the end, it was a Sonny day for the Commodores.
After morning rain and early game situational anxieties, the gloomy clouds eventually parted for Vanderbilt, thanks to the familiar scripts of two out scoring, solid bullpen work and timely defensive gems. The 7-3 victory over North Carolina was a nice way to break onto the national stage at the College World Series.
Hey, the Commodores are now 1-0 when a former president of the United States throws out the first pitch!
Thanks to intense media coverage, you already know the thrilling story lines - Tony Kemp's bat, glove and feet, the clutch performances of relievers Corey Williams and Will Clinard, Jason Esposito's "Brooks Robinson" play at third base and Conrad Gregor and Connor Herrell playing back-to-back long ball off Carolina's ace Patrick Johnson.
You watched as Sonny Gray, one of the most competitive players to ever wear Black and Gold, struggled without his best stuff but still kept his team in the game.
You didn't hear the Carolina players get asked the most annoying question reporters routinely toss to members of the losing team after a game: "How frustrating was it...?" It's one we've heard asked various Commodore teams too many times over the years.
Perhaps this is evidence of climate change. Not only have near-by flood waters stayed away and not only did the pre-game showers dissipate just in time, the climate around Vanderbilt sports seems to improve with every forecast. Commodore fans are painting this wonderful Nebraska city black and gold. `Dore fans have seemingly crawled out from under rocks and are able to match any other fan base at this, the grandest stage in collegiate baseball.
The team team's rousing send-off from its Hilton Garden Inn headquarters could be Exhibit A. It was jammed at hour before the team busses rolled with alumni, sidewalk alums, families, staff, former staff, young, old, blue collar and white collar. Fans clamored on top of tables and chairs hoping for a glimpse of their favorites; the hotel's general manager stood on the front desk decked out in Vandy colors, tossing out clackers to the crowd.
The lobby sound system started with repetitions of "Dynamite" but morphed into a half hour of "Takin' Care of Business", over and over and over. No one needed prodding but it took a while for the gang to find the tempo. Then, one side yelled "Black!" and the other side responded "Gold!" Hawkins Field North. We were rockin'.
Eventually the applause transitioned into a strong, rhythmic clap and with the Bachman Turner Overdrive standard still blaring through the speakers, it was time for the Commodores to depart. Each time a clump of team personnel stepped off the small hotel elevators, the place went bonkers. It was a hero's send off, a scene that will take place prior to every game and shouldn't be missed by attending Vanderbilt fans.
The lobby was crowded with more than people. It was full of enthusiasm for a team that has conducted itself the right way in things that are important since Tim Corbin became its coach nine years ago. It was overflowing with pride. The scene was a curtain-raiser on this historic day for Vanderbilt baseball.
Southeastern Conference Associate Commissioner Charles Bloom was in attendance and he labeled the first game of the College World Series "the most important one of the Series." That sentiment was echoed by Corbin, who told his squad afterward that he wanted it to stay confident and humble, knowing it had just won the most difficult game of the tournament by getting past the first-game jitters. Carolina coach Mike Fox admitted that given his choice, he'd have preferred winning.
No doubt the winner's bracket will look challenging come Monday night but for the rest of the weekend, the Commodore forecast calls for nothing but sunshine.