OMAHA, Nebraska — The Vanderbilt and Virginia baseball teams both took foreign trips in the offseason, and both ended up in the College World Series finals.
Coaches Tim Corbin of Vanderbilt and Brian O'Connor of Virginia don't know about that. But spending a week together out of the country did accelerate the bonding of the newcomers and returning players for both teams.
Vanderbilt went to the Dominican Republic during Thanksgiving break and Virginia went to Panama and Costa Rica for a week in December. The trips provided extra practice and games against local teams in addition to opportunities for touring and community service.
"I felt this was the year to do this because I knew that we were going to have a lot of turnover from last year," O'Connor said. "I felt it was important for this year's club to have that experience, to hopefully get them to spend time together, to value the relationships they have and the experiences they have with each other."
Corbin said he saw value in having his players engage in activities away from their sport.
"We want to get our kids out there," he said. "We want them to get experiences that supersede baseball."
One of Virginia's rallying cries starting in the fall was "Panama to Omaha," and it came to fruition. The NCAA allows teams to take a foreign trip once every four years. O'Connor hopes to take another one in 2018.
"It's going to be an easier sell now to our administrators, the fact that we're sitting here right now," O'Connor said.
SURPRISE CONTRIBUTORS: Seems like every year a team gets important contributions from someone unexpected. Last year, it was Tyler Campbell who came up big stepping in for Vanderbilt's suspended third baseman. This year, Virginia might not have forced a Game 3 in the finals if it hadn't been for freshman Adam Haseley pitching five shutout innings in a surprise start and Thomas Woodruff, a senior with 67 career at-bats entering Tuesday, driving in two runs.
"I'm a big believer that to be in this position, to compete for a national championship, you need guys to rise to the occasion that maybe hadn't yet or what people didn't expect," O'Connor said. "I think if you go back and look at the history of this event, there have been players that have emerged and got big hits or pitched quality innings for their team."
MEN OF THE PUCK: Vanderbilt freshmen Tyler Green, Jeren Kendall and Will Toffey could have been boys of winter instead of boys of summer. All had opportunities to play hockey past high school. Toffey, in fact, turned down 2014 hockey national champion Yale to play baseball for the Commodores.