An unforgettable championship viewing experience

June 26, 2014

This column was penned by David Dawson, an assistant communications director at Vanderbilt, who watched the Commodores win the national championship with his dad and 2,000 of his closest friends in Vanderbilt Stadium.

Fans Celebrate in Vanderbilt Stadium

Being the packrat that I am, I will likely spend the next few days collecting a rather large number of items -- newspapers, magazines and perhaps a T-shirt or two -- to commemorate Vanderbilt's newly gained national championship in baseball.

Those items will immediately become prized possessions, and the front page of the Tennessean will likely find a prominent place on my wall.

But make no mistake about it: My most treasured memento from Wednesday night didn't come from a newsstand and it's not something that can be stashed away in a drawer.

It can only be found in the memory bank of my mind. It's the mental image of me and my dad -- two life-long Vanderbilt fans -- standing at the 30-yard line at Vanderbilt Stadium, amid of sea of black-and-gold die-hards, and vigorously celebrating what we had just witnessed on the big screen.

The Vanderbilt Commodores, who were once considered the runts of the SEC, had just become the top dogs of the college baseball world.

Not regular-season champs. Not conference tournament champs. But national champions.

For my dad and me, it was a moment of utter happiness and unbridled excitement. We hugged and hooted and high-fived. We joined together with the other 2,000 fans on Dudley Field to produce a joyful noise. And inside, our souls smiled.

I suppose it would have looked kind of silly for me and my dad to form a two-man dogpile right there at midfield. But we were tempted. After all, this was an accomplishment we had been dreaming of for as long as I can remember.

To truly understand the magnitude for the moment, you have to understand where I am coming from.

When I was about six years old, my dad took me to my first Vanderbilt basketball game at Memorial Gym. Vanderbilt lost.

Not long after that, he took me to my first Vanderbilt football game. And again, Vanderbilt lost. By a lot.

And yet, those early defeats did not lessen my loyalty. For some reason, in fact, it had the opposite effect. I became a hardcore Commodore, and began traveling a Black-and-Gold road from which I have never waivered for the past 30-plus years.

Granted, it has not always been a pleasant ride, as any Vanderbilt fan can attest. We've endured plenty of gut-punching defeats, sometimes one right after the other. We've experienced certain stretches where it seemed we were always the underdog who put up a noble fight but rarely was rewarded with victory. As the song says, we've had our share of sand kicked in our face.

Those days, however, are long gone. Virtually all across the board, Vanderbilt athletics has been on the upswing for more than a decade. We are now enjoying the Golden Age for the Black-and-Gold, and Wednesday night's victory in Omaha certainly provided proof of our progress.

And oh, the memories that were made. Not just on Wednesday night, but throughout this glorious postseason run.

Keep in mind that only a month ago, the Commodores entered the postseason with somewhat modest expectations from those outside the program. Vanderbilt was a No. 6 seed at the SEC tournament and was unceremoniously eliminated after just three games, including suffering back-to-back defeats by the combined score of 18-3.

But then something amazing happened over the next few days: The Commodores got hot. They galvanized right before our very eyes.

They swept through the Nashville Regional, winning three straight games, badda-boom, badda-bing. Then they knocked off stubborn Stanford in three games to advance to Omaha, and followed that up with a two-week thrill ride that included three enormously-intense victories in elimination games and was ultimately punctuated by John Norwood's ultra-clutch homer in the eighth inning on Wednesday.

Along the way, there was a huge collection of plays and performances that provided indications that something special was taking place throughout the month of June.

Rhett Wiseman's spectacular ninth-inning catch against Texas -- and his similarly stunning grab in the ninth on Wednesday -- were among the brightest-shining highlights. There was also Ro Coleman's walk-off hit, Tyler Beede's 14-strikeout effort, Hayden Stone's incredible work out of the bullpen, Carson Fulmer's undying determination and Dansby Swanson's hot bat and flawless fielding. And then there was the World Series' most amazing story, Tyler Campbell, who delivered the now-famous game-winning infield single among his other clutch hits throughout the past week.

(Also not to be overlooked is Stanford's stunning walk-off victory over Indiana, which gave Vanderbilt the right to host the Super Regionals instead of traveling).

It all culminated, of course, with Wednesday's dramatic game. The excitement level at Vanderbilt Stadium spiked when the Commodores took an early lead, and then soared when Norwood connected for his heroic eighth-inning blast to break a 2-2 tie.

That was followed by the ever-so-tense bottom of the eighth inning, where Adam Ravenelle escaped a major jam and began carving out his niche in Commodore history. Just one inning later, he cemented his legacy with a perfect ninth inning that ended with the most glorious swinging strikeout that Vanderbilt fans have ever seen.

Out in Omaha, the victory was accompanied by the traditional spoils of victory: The gatorade bath for head coach Tim Corbin, a much-deserved MVP trophy for Swanson, and an explosion of celebration in the stands.

Closer to home, those of us who gathered at Vanderbilt Stadium felt just like we were there, screaming at the top of our lungs with what little voice we had left. The people over in Green Hills surely heard the roar. Perhaps so did the folks in Omaha.

For so many Vanderbilt fans -- like me and my dad -- it was a moment that will be cherished as long as we live.

Come to think of it, maybe the two-man dogpile wouldn't have looked all that silly after all.



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