Vandy won't get caught napping in Japan

Friday, November 20, 2009 at 12:59am
Commodores have been practicing for a few weeks with wooden bats in preparation of their Far East trip. / Jude Ferrara, The City Paper

It’s the sounds of the game that will be different when Vanderbilt’s baseball team takes part in its four-game exhibition tour of Japan, beginning Sunday.

Even before they depart, though, the Commodores’ players will hear something else unusual — a 3 a.m. wakeup call.

Coaches intend to roust their players at that time Saturday and conduct a workout beginning 30 minutes later. When they are finished, the team will head to the airport for a flight to Dallas, where it will make a connection for the 14-hour trip to Japan.

“I just figured that was the best way to get them to sleep on the flight from Dallas to Tokyo and get them on (Japan) time,” coach Tim Corbin said. “When we’re working out at 3:30, you’re kind of looking into the late afternoon or evening hours over there.

“We’ll try to get some type of competitive advantage before we get over there.”

That approach is due, in large part, to the fact that Vanderbilt figures to be at a competitive disadvantage in some key areas.

First and foremost, is the fact that the games will be played with wooden bats — standard for Japanese collegiate teams — instead of the aluminum ones used by American college teams.

Thus, every time a player makes contact he will produce a crack instead of a ping. More importantly, he’ll have to alter his mindset prior to the pitch.

“I don’t want to say it’s a different swing, it’s a different approach, though,” senior Andrew Giobbi said. “There’s a lot smaller area to hit the baseball on the bat.

“I would say to really get used to the wood, it’s going to take the first game or two. You’ll be able to tell the guys who have hit with wood before and had success.”

Many of the Commodores have had limited experiences with wood bats in various U.S. summer leagues. Plus, they have trained with them since early last week.

Yet that pales in comparison to the fact that the Japanese programs train year-round and, thus, are proficient in the fundamentals.

“When they’re on defense, they’ll make you earn everything you get,” pitcher Sonny Gray, who faced a Japanese all-star team this summer as part of the U.S. junior national team. “I don’t remember them making any errors at all the whole time we were there. We’re going to have to play solid baseball.”

Corbin, likewise, has seen Japanese baseball up close as a coach with the U.S. national team. He faced that country’s national team in eight contests as an assistant coach in 2000 and in six games as head coach in 2006.

He said those matchups have had a profound effect on his approach to the game, particularly the reliance on speed and a selfless approach at the plate.

He also has a very clear memory of all the sound when Japan’s teams were playing defense.

‘They were extremely talkative and animated in the infield,” he said. “Those are points I try to stress with our defensive players. I think American kids for the most part are quieter when they play.”

Next week his players will get to see it — and hear it — for themselves.


The rundown of Vanderbilt’s exhibition games on next week’s exhibition trip to Japan (all times CST):

Sunday at Hosei University, 10 p.m.

Monday vs. Aoyama Gakuin University, 7 p.m.

Monday at Meiji University, 11 p.m.

Tuesday at Waseda University, 9 p.m.