College baseball season is underway.
Numerous polls have a pair of Southeastern Conference rivals at the top: Vanderbilt and Louisiana State University (LSU). Several other SEC schools are ranked, including Arkansas, which is trying to return to the College World Series final.
But it’s still early in the season, and there are plenty of balls to throw before we know who will make it to Omaha.
Read on for a preview of the start of the baseball season.
Vanderbilt Coach Not Interested In Ranking
Depending on the poll, Vanderbilt is ranked No. 1 or No. 2, but Commodores coach Tim Corbin doesn’t want to talk about other people’s opinions. “I never bring it up,” he said. “That’s someone else’s words.”
Instead of concentrating on the polls, the Vanderbilt players are focusing on bringing their best game to those they face on the field. “When you are a pretty good team, you have to be on guard all the time,” Corbin said.
This weekend the team opened the season with the MLB4 Tournament in Scottsdale, Arizona. Vanderbilt beat Virginia and Cal State-Fullerton before losing to Texas Christian University.
Corbin gave credit to TCU for playing well. “They were very opportunistic in their offense,” he said. “They pitched extremely well. I think they shut our hitters down.”
Kumar Rocker, a freshman pitcher at Vanderbilt who has gotten a lot of media attention because he was a highly ranked pitcher in high school, was the starting pitcher in the game against TCU. But didn’t make it past the second inning. Some Vandy fans began asking whether Rocker will remain a starter. Corbin said it doesn’t matter what Rocker’s position is, as long as he keeps improving.
“All I care about is whether Kumar grows and is able to benefit from this experience,” Corbin said.
Corbin said Rocker is a team player who doesn’t insist on being the starter.
“Whatever role we have him in, he will be fine with,” Corbin said. “Whether it’s a starter, or a closer, or a relief pitcher, all he cares about is getting better.”
Looking forward toward the rest of the season, Corbin said the Commodores will take it one game at a time. “We just concentrate on what we are doing right now and hopefully it brings us success as we move forward,” he said.
Vanderbilt has a three-game series against Pepperdine this weekend.
LSU’s Chris Reid Is Back
Senior Chris Reid has rejoined the highly-ranked LSU after six months of being cut.
In August 2018, Reid was looking forward to his senior year at LSU, when he was called into Head Coach Paul Mainieri’s office. It was during that meeting that Reid was told there was no longer room on the roster for him.
It was a devastating blow for the 22-year-old, who had grown up in Louisiana cheering for the Tigers. “It broke my heart,” Reid said. “I’ve always wanted to play at LSU. It’s been my dream since I was three years old.”
Adding salt to the wound, Reid felt that this year’s team had a good chance to make it to the College World Series. Reid was a player for LSU in 2017 when they made to the CWS Finals. (The Tigers lost to Florida.)
Reid said being cut from the team meant he would never get a chance to play for the national title again. “It’s hard to pass up a chance to win a national championship,” he said.
For six months after getting cut, Reid didn’t play any baseball. Adjusting to life outside of team sports was hard. The only time he spent on the diamond was when he was coaching little league. He also gave a few private baseball lessons to kids.
Reid’s life changed about three weeks ago when he was coaching a scrimmage for his 10-U team. During the game, LSU Tiger outfielder Antoine Duplantis called Reid to ask if he would return to the team.
After Duplantis broke the ice, Mainieri contacted Reid and asked him to play for the Tigers again. After listening to what Maineria had to say, Reid made the decision to put back on his number 17 jersey and play ball.
Last weekend, LSU was 3–0 against the Air Force, Army, and Louisiana-Monroe. Reid isn’t a starter, but he does get playing time. Each time Reid went to the plate this past weekend, the crowd cheered. A sacrifice fly made in the 6th inning against the Air Force on Sunday led to a run for the Tigers caused an uproar from the fans.
“That was probably one of the best moments that I’ve had in baseball,” he said. “It’s really heartwarming that whenever I got to the plate they got really loud.”
LSU plays a three-game series against Bryant this weekend.
Reid said he and his teammates will continue to work hard this season to play at a high level. “We have a target on our back,” he said. “Everyone wants to beat us.”
Reid hopes his story encourages other kids not give up if they are cut from a team. He said they should work harder and try again. “Everything in life isn’t going to be fair, and it’s not going to be easy,” he said.
Arkansas’s Casey Martin Is Focused on Being a Leader
Casey Martin is only a sophomore for Arkansas, but his name is well known by college baseball fans.
Martin (pictured above) started in 62 of the 67 games he played in last season. He had a team-leading batting average of .345 with 87 hits, 14 doubles, 13 home runs, and 49 RBIs.
Last season came to a heartbreaking end for Martin when Oregon State defeated Arkansas for the College World Series National Championship.
After the Razorbacks left Omaha, Martin and his teammates started focusing on the 2019 season. “We did a lot of recruiting and a lot weight lifting,” he said “Now we are back for the season ready to go.”
The 2019 season is off to a good start for the Razorbacks. Arkansas beat Eastern Illinois 15–7,12–3, and 3–2 last weekend.
The 19-year-old said his goal for this season is to be a role model to his freshman teammates. “I need to be a leader and show them how we play baseball at the University of Arkansas,” he said.
Martin said that he had a lot of people rooting for him from his hometown of Lonoke, Arkansas. The town is small, with a population of about 4,000 people. “It’s awesome to see the support I get from them,” he said.
Martin is grateful for the people in his life that encourage him to work hard. “I have a had a lot of people push me to the best that I can,” he said, “and I’m getting the credit.”
No one has pushed Martin more than his older brother, Cody. Although his brother doesn’t play college baseball, and they are attending different colleges, they share a love of the game.
The Razorbacks will face the University of Southern California this weekend.
Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images