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Guest MIKE LOPREST

Three years after devastating death of teammate, Vanderbilt comes 'full circle' with College World Series title 1

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Guest MIKE LOPREST

OMAHA, Neb. — They stood on the championship platform, the father in a white shirt and the mother in a black shirt, holding hands on this night that was so wonderful for them, and yet so heartbreaking. One by one, the new national champions from Vanderbilt came by to share hugs and a few words. Every player up there, in their new gray championship T-shirts.

Coach Tim Corbin had even led the father to the stage, hand in hand. “It was special,” Corbin would say later, “because it’s the only thing I could do for him.”

They are Teddy and Susan Everett, and they had a son named Donny. Three Junes ago, Donny was a pitcher and part of a promising Vanderbilt freshman class. He went fishing one day with teammates, got into trouble while swimming and drowned. Had he not been drafted by now, he, too, would have been out there dogpiling on the field at TD Ameritrade Park. Teddy and Susan would have been clapping in the stands, savoring one of the special evenings of their lives.

If you want to know what the glory of Wednesday night meant to these Commodores, after they had finished off Michigan 8-2, start with their feelings about Donny Everett, who wasn’t here. And the father and mother, who were.

Listen to JJ Bleday: “They deserve to be here more than anyone else.”

Or Ethan Paul: “To this day, every time I look at Teddy, I think of Donny, and just being able to share that moment with them was something that I think — I can speak for the seniors, but probably the whole team — is something that we’ve all really wanted to do.”

Which is why Teddy Everett and his wife had to be in Omaha. Had to be.

“It meant a lot. I just wish my son could have been up there, too,” said Teddy, and that’s when a couple of tears trickled down his cheeks, and what father could not possibly understand? “I’ve been around the boys all year, I love all the boys, they’ve been amazing. The Corbins have been wonderful to us.

“It was hard, too. Just wishing he could have been here for it.”

They had seen all the No. 41 jerseys in the Vanderbilt section. Donny’s number was in the ballpark Wednesday, by the dozens.

“It’s great to see,” Teddy said. “It’s also sad every time I see it.”

Three years. Time enough for the freshmen to grow into seniors, who would lead a particularly single-minded team. They won it for themselves Wednesday night. They won it for each other. They won it for a missing teammate no longer here. The Vanderbilt Commodores rejoiced for so many reasons, when they embraced one another as national champions, an elite program that now rates second to no one.

On the last night of the 2019 College World Series, this was the juggernaut everyone knew was potentially out there any night.  This was the team everyone else should have feared. A relentless, veteran, dead-set collection of seven seniors or redshirt juniors and 13 draft choices. They had intended to be here — in Omaha, on this sunny summer evening, for this moment — from the very start, back in the gray of winter. They were a baseball locomotive at the end that no one could stop, winning 35 of their final 39 games.

“Teams like this don’t come by very often,” Bleday said. “When you’re able to have mature group and have good leadership like we did, it’s something special.”

Corbin kept coming back to his seniors, who had gone through so much, and put off the professional draft to take another whack at Omaha for Vandy. “I think at the end of the day, our No. 1 reason to come back to school wasn’t to have this outlandish season or anything like that,” Paul said. “I think that we all wanted to just be part of something special. It’s great to win a national championship, it’s great to do all those things, but the program means so much more to us than just winning.”

Corbin looked back at the long road they traveled, from losing a teammate to being handed the championship trophy.

“The fact it can come full circle for them, where devastation and celebration are really close partners of one other,” he said. “They’re just on the opposite end of the spectrum. And for them to see both sides of it and then enjoy tonight, staying with something and being persistent, there’s a large reward at the end. I’m glad they could see the other end of it. That was a tough time for us. It still is. We played with heavy hearts for a long time.”

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