Just hours removed from concluding the most historical baseball season in school history, the Commodores returned from Omaha and the College World Series to a hero's welcome on campus Saturday afternoon.
"It is overwhelming really just to see so many people here, up in Omaha, in the lobby of our hotel and around the park," Head Coach Tim Corbin said. "People that are 60, 70, 80 years old that have smiles on their faces, that is the thing as a coach that you look back on and say `wow, this made a difference to a lot of people,' not just those who played, and for that I'm thankful."
Approximately 200 Vanderbilt fans gathered between Parmer Field House and Memorial Gym to greet the team as it arrived on campus at 2 p.m.
"It is pretty nice to come back to something like this," senior first baseman Aaron Westlake said. "I was not expecting this kind of turnout at all. This is pretty awesome."
The arrival of the team back to Nashville brought excitement to fans in attendance. Players and coaches posed for pictures and signed autographs for the fans who grew close to the team throughout the year, and were just thrilled to be able to see them in person one last time.
One by one, the players got off the bus and were greeted by their Head Coach, who shook every hand. After greeting fans with hugs and high fives, the players grabbed their bat bags and travel bags and one-by-one disappeared down the concourse of Vanderbilt Stadium toward the baseball locker room.
For as much jubilation as there was from the team arriving back to campus, it also brought with it a sad reality that the magical 2011 season was over.
As each player headed toward the locker room with their bags in hand, the 2011 season slipped further away. The next day or two will be the last time the most successful team in school history is together again for the foreseeable future. Players will scatter to their different summer league teams or hometowns and coaches will hit the road recruiting, and soon all that will be left are the images and memories.
"The thing that is really tough when you are really attached to kids is that they come and they go," Corbin said. "You borrow them from their parents for three or four years and then they leave. That takes years off my life personally when they leave. It is tough to see them go. You don't want this situation to end, not particularly from a game standpoint, but just to be around them because of the relationship you developed. It was a fun ride and the reason you feel so much sadness now is because it was so fulfilling over the course of the last year.
"A few weeks ago I called them a legacy team, and they are. There are so many things that they accomplished this year not even on the ball field that will stay in my mind forever. The way they carried themselves, the way they looked every day, their routine, their consistency as people, their selflessness, their character as a team I will always remember from this day on and I just appreciate being able to be apart of it."