How a Teammate’s Death Created a Vanderbilt ‘Family’ for College World Series

Vanderbilt University’s baseball team has become one of the better programs in the country in recent years, having appeared in the College World Series three times since 2014 and four times this decade. The school won its first NCAA baseball championship in 2014 and won its second title this summer. The difference between the two championship wins is the motivation that may have helped power the team to the title this year.

The death of Donny Everett

Donny Everett was a freshman pitcher for the Commodores in 2016 after turning down an offer to play professional baseball from the Brewers, who selected him in the 2015 Major League Baseball draft. Everett was injured for the first half of his freshman season at Vanderbilt, but returned to action to record a 1.50 ERA in 12 innings of work. He helped his team qualify for the 2016 NCAA Division I Baseball Tournament, but Everett never made it to the tournament.

On June 2 — one day before the tournament was scheduled to begin — Everett went fishing at a Tennessee lake with teammates. When he tried to swim across the lake, he drowned and was later pronounced dead when emergency crews were unable to revive him. Everett was just 19.

The team unites after Everett’s death

Everett’s teammates were understandably shaken and upset when they were told that he had passed away. But they didn’t give up and continued their collegiate baseball careers. This summer, they used their fallen teammate’s memory as motivation when they played in the College World Series. For a number of Everett’s former teammates — five seniors and two redshirt juniors — this year’s tournament was the final games they would play in college.

Coach Tim Corbin has said that one positive to come out of Everett’s untimely death was gaining a family. When Vanderbilt won its super regional to advance to the College World Series in Omaha, Corbin asked Everett’s parents, Teddy and Susan, to accompany the team there, saying he “just felt like all along this is where they needed to be.” According to senior Justin Infante, Teddy has told the team that “he lives through us,” so the team wants to be there for him and his family. Infante continued, saying “their strength and love for us is inspiring.”

The Commodores’ 2019 season

Vanderbilt didn’t have much of a problem winning games during the season. They won both the regular season and tournament titles in the SEC, setting the conference record for wins. They lost back-to-back games just twice all season long. They had 13 players selected in the MLB draft, which tied a record. All of that gave them momentum heading into the NCAA Baseball Tournament.

The 2019 College World Series

Vanderbilt earned a two-seed in this year’s College World Series, setting them up with a first-round matchup against No. 7 Louisville. The Commodores won that game, 3-1. They advanced to play Mississippi State, winning that game 6-3, and then beating Louisville again, this time by a score of 3-2. Vanderbilt then advanced to the championship round, in which they played a best-of-three series against Michigan.

Michigan’s coach, Erik Bakich, was previously Corbin’s assistant at Vanderbilt for seven years. The Wolverines took the first game, 7-4, but Vanderbilt came back to win Game 2 by a count of 4-1. In the championship-deciding Game 3, Vanderbilt won in a rout, beating Michigan 8-2, giving the Commodores their second College World Series title.

Freshman pitcher Kumar Rocker was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. Coach Corbin credited the championship to the team’s maturity, thanks to the leadership of the seniors, who Corbin says “deserve this. It came full circle for them and I’m very happy for them.”