At Clemson Connor Kaiser's bat and Julian Infante's class showed us why we love these Vanderbilt Commodores.
A month ago if someone had told you that Vanderbilt would be hosting a Super Regional most college baseball observers would have thought them crazy. Vandy baseball (25-23) had been swept at Auburn in embarrassing style and then lost to a good Tennessee Tech team at home. At Auburn, I overheard one member of the Tiger press comment that he didn't think Tim Corbin was a very good coach. I pointed out to him Vandy's injury situation and the fact that the Commodores were playing a ton of freshmen. I wanted to go into more like past butt whippings put on the Tigers by Corbin coached teams, but I didn't. In truth, while there were reasons for the Auburn debacle, I thought that this Vandy team was more of a work in progress compared to the past Corbin coached Commodore crews, both in pitching and hitting.
At Clemson, I met up with many friends that I had made last year. Wonderful people and lots of Vandy connections there. I commented to some that I thought that this Vandy team was a step or two behind last year's squad and that it would be very difficult for these Commodores to repeat as Clemson Regional Champions. Vanderbilt's greatest fundraiser ever, George Bennett, who back in the 1980s raised most of the money to replace Dudley Field before returning to Clemson, told me that this Clemson team could hammer that ball like no other Tiger team he had ever seen. When I heard that I was worried.
What we saw at Clemson was incredible. Nine home runs in a game! And not by Clemson, Vandy. Three homers by Connor Kaiser, who had hit only three prior to that game all season. He also had an incredible 10 RBIs. Talk about raising your draft stock in one game. Kaiser had struggled in the opening game against St. John's on Friday going just 1 for 4 and getting called out on strikes couple times. In game two, the first game against Clemson, he did better getting a hit and a walk along with a big RBI. Game three was truly amazing for Kaiser. Seven at-bats, five hits, and three home runs for double-digit RBIs. That performance is in the same realm as Shan Foster's 3-point shooting clinic against Mississippi State years ago.
For me though, the most pleasing development on Sunday night for me was Julian Infante. I had goofed up big time in game 1 against Clemson, thinking that the home run by Gonzales had been hit by Infante. In my defense, whoever was doing the jumbotron there was taking a lot of time to update for the next player at bat. Gonzo hit after Infante. I had requested Infante to be at the press conference. Of course, I asked him about the home run he had hit and then nearly crawled under my seat when he said, "That was hit by Gonzo." Then, before game two some jerk Clemson fan walked down to the area near first base and yelled hatefully at Infante, "Julian, why are you on the field? You must be an amazing defensive player!" Infante, a class act, just acted as if he didn't hear that devilish heckler but I knew he did.
In the first game against Clemson Infante ended up getting a sacrifice RBI that was crucial to the Commodores' close 4-3 win. In the second game, Infante had a hand in the Commodores' home run derby, hitting a solo homer. As he crossed the plate, instead of casting a single middle digit towards the heckler from the day before like some might, he held up four fingers on one hand and one finger on the other as he looked up at the heavens, this to honor his fallen teammate, Donnie Everett, whose parents were in the stands at Clemson.
Julian's behavior and grace remind us why these Vandy Boys are special. God bless Julian Infante, Connor Kaiser and the rest of the Commodores.