NCAA Baseball: College World Series

Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin speaks to the fans after defeating Michigan to win the 2019 College World Series championship in June. Corbin, who grew up in Wolfeboro, has been named to the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

THERE’S A reason Vanderbilt University is synonymous with “winning” in the baseball world.

Yes, they’ve had numerous current and former big leaguers pass through their facilities over the years, including two — David Price (2008) and Dansby Swanson (2015) — who were selected with the No. 1 pick in the MLB draft, and since 2004, 14 others have also been first-round picks.

Each one of them played a role in their team’s success but, eventually, they all moved on to the bigs. The one constant is the man affectionately known as “Corbs.”

Tim Corbin, 58, a Wolfeboro native, has been the head coach at Vanderbilt since 2003, amassing a program record 740 wins and leading the Commodores to College World Series titles in 2014 and 2019. Vanderbilt has also reached 15 NCAA tournaments — including 14 straight — under Corbin, advancing to the Super Regionals nine times and the CWS on four occasions.

On Jan. 3, 2020, Corbin will add another note to his resume: Hall of Famer.

The American Baseball Coaches Association announced his pending enshrinement on July 30 and he will headline a class that also includes John Casey (Tufts University), Wayne King Jr. (Joilet Junior College), Mike Kinnison (Delta State University), Mike Metheny (Southeastern Oklahoma State University) and Dennis Rogers (Riverside City College).

Winning the 2019 CWS cemented Corbin as one of the greatest skippers to ever do it. The convincing way in which the Commodores swept the Michigan Wolverines to win the title spoke volumes and left little doubt that their Southeastern Conference record 59 wins were more than just a team getting hot in the regular season. They were dominant from start to finish and Corbin was the one pulling the strings behind the scenes to put his players in a position to succeed.

“We never talked about championships,” Corbin told VanderbiltHustler.com. “We didn’t talk about winning the SEC, we didn’t talk about winning a regional. We just stayed very localized in their thinking, and I attribute that to the older kids. The situation callused their brain, and because they did that, it allowed them to get closer to maturity than maybe if that didn’t happen.”

Whatever it was worked.

Vanderbilt led the nation in home runs (100) and the 765 strikeouts the pitching staff racked up were an NCAA record. The last time a team won 59 games was in 1989, and at that point Corbin was finishing up his second year as head coach at Presbyterian College.

He’s come a long way since then, joining the coaching staff at Clemson University in 1994, where he spent eight years before getting the Vanderbilt job in 2003. He’s created the standard in college baseball. Now, he’s created the gold standard in all of college baseball.

“Vanderbilt is the team you grew up watching, just studying everything they did,” Michigan catcher Joe Donovan said after the CWS. “Seeing it up close, you are even more impressed. You think, OK, that’s it. That’s who we want to be. That’s why they have the trophy tonight.”

For his career, Corbin has gone 846-492-1 as a head coach. He has two SEC Coach of the Year awards to his name (2007, 2013) in addition to CollegeBaseballInsider.com National Coach of the Year (2007), Baseball America College Coach of the Year (2014), Collegiate Baseball National Coach of the Year (2014) and Perfect Game Coach of the Year (2014).

He’s been called the Nick Saban of college baseball, comparing him with the legendary Alabama football head coach who has won six national championships, and with good reason. Corbin still needs four more titles to catch Saban, but he’s on the same level.

Michigan head baseball coach Erik Bakich had this to say about Corbin after the CWS.

“Tim Corbin is the best head coach in America, no matter what sport.”

He’s certainly in the conversation.

Transactions within an organization tend to have a domino effect.

When one player gets called up or sent down, another must be called up or sent down to fill the void left behind. So when Bo Bichette was called up to the majors on July 29, someone needed to be moved to Triple-A Buffalo to take his roster spot. Santiago Espinal was tabbed as that guy.

After appearing in 136 games for the Fisher Cats between the 2018 and 2019 seasons, a span during which he hit .280 with six home runs, 77 RBIs and 30 doubles, Espinal no longer had anything left to prove at the Double-A level. But with Bichette locked in at shortstop in upstate New York there was nowhere for Espinal, a natural infielder, to get regular playing time.

It got to the point where the organization and manager Mike Mordecai were having him play center field in an effort to expedite the process of him finally getting the call to the next level.

“I’ve been trying to get him out of here now for a month trying to get him to Triple-A,” Mordecai said in late June. “But there has to be a spot for him to go, and with all the stuff going on between Toronto and Buffalo, that’s hard. I think he’s probably proved his worth here. I think he belongs at the higher level to give him an opportunity to show what he can do.”

To his credit, Espinal never complained, biding his time until he was given a chance.

“I told them if they needed me at second, short, third, or in the outfield, I’ll play,” he said in late June. “I feel comfortable playing wherever. I don’t care if one day I’m playing second, the next day I’m playing center, and the next day I’m playing short. I feel comfortable playing wherever.”

Espinal has gone 1-for-19 with an RBI double in five Triple-A games, but with a career .280 average at the minor league level, expect the 24-year-old’s bat to come around soon enough.

A sweep of the Martha’s Vineyard Sharks in their best-of-three series resulted in the Keene Swamp Bats’ fifth New England Collegiate Baseball League title since 2000 on Thursday.

Having finished the regular season at the top of the Northern Division with a 26-18 record, the Swamp Bats received a bye in the first round before taking on Valley Blue Sox in the semifinals.

Keene needed all three games of that series to defeat the defending champions, winning Game 1, 11-10, and dropping Game 2, 1-0, to set up a win-or-go-home Game 3. Stratham’s Kyle Ball, who hit .450 (9-for-20) with two home runs and five RBIs in the postseason, was the hero in that one, hitting a walk-off single to send Keene to the title series for the first time since 2013.

Keene made quick work of the Sharks for the crown, winning Game 1, 14-10, and Game 2, 4-2.

NH Baseball appears in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Contact Tim MacLean at tmaclean@unionleader.com.