NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Vanderbilt cheerleaders strolled through the infield for photos. Fathers and sons played catch in the outfield. Families lost their minds when CJ Rodriguez went yard in the second inning.
Hawkins Field didn't look like its ordinary game day self. The outfield turf was covered with chairs, towels and people. Mostly people.
Hundreds of Vandy fans gathered at the Hawkins Field watch party Tuesday night to watch the Commodores’ attempt to clinch its second consecutive World Series title, a feat that hasn’t been accomplished since South Carolina in 2010-11.
Fans of all ages scattered across the outfield to enjoy games, concession food and a jumbotron showing of Tuesday's 13-2 loss to Mississippi State in the College World Series finals. While the young ones gathered in deep left center to play jackpot, others waited out the two-hour weather delay to watch the Commodores.
One of those fans was 38-year-old Matt Grey. The University of Texas graduate moved to Nashville with his wife in 2006 to start a family. New to the area, he knew they needed a team to root for. Enter Vanderbilt.
Grey was at Vanderbilt’s first watch party in 2014, held at the football stadium instead of Hawkins Field, the baseball's team's home turf. He was at the watch party in 2019 as well, when Vanderbilt came away with its second College World Series title. He wasn’t going to miss celebrating his team’s opportunity to repeat after most of the 2020 season was canceled because of COVID-19.
“It's just great to be outside, be back together, and not stuck in the house anymore,” Grey said. “It's fun and exciting every time, like it's a feat to be (at the College World Series Final). It's cool that we get to keep coming back.”
One of his favorite parts of the party, other than watching the Commodores on the big screen, was getting to throw around in the outfield with his kids. His 8-year-old son Porter, a utility man on his youth baseball team, named off almost every position on the diamond when asked what position he played. On Tuesday, Porter was playing in Vanderbilt's center field.
“You come to watch a game and you're like, man, you dream one day of your kid playing on that field,” Grey said. “Getting out here, coming out and throwing the ball around, it just gives it that next step.”
The Grey’s weren’t the only superfans at Hawkins Field. Jacob Jones, 15, doesn’t remember the last time he missed a Vanderbilt baseball game.
Sitting behind home plate in the Commodores' marathon win against Georgia Tech in the Nashville Regional, the aspiring pitcher said he can't recall a time the stadium was louder than after Isaiah Thomas hit a grand slam in the 11th inning to put the Yellow Jackets away. But he hopes they can try this week.
“Oh yeah, (it’ll be) louder,” Jones boldly declared. “But it’s going to be harder without the whistler here, but we’ll try.”
The Vandy whistlers' presence was missed at Tuesday’s watch party, but not in Omaha, where the two whistlers have been cheering on the Commodores. The infamous Vanderbilt superfans can be heard at ballgames making noise, and they have received plenty of attention at the College World Series.
“I love it,” Jones said of the whistlers. “People act like they hate him. You gotta love him.”
Others weren’t as supportive.
“No, it’s very annoying,” Elijah Cooper, 13, said.
“(My wife and I) have a different opinion about this,” Grey said regarding the whistlers. “It’s one of those things where it'll turn into tradition and we'll just learn to put up with it.”
Though the Vandy whistlers weren't at Hawkins Field on Tuesday night, the fans created an atmosphere similar to a typical game day. The Vanderbilt flag waved in the outfield. High fives were shared early, before Mississippi State took a commanding lead late, and hundreds clapped along as if MSU starting pitcher Houston Harding could be intimidated through the jumbotron.
“This year, they just have some sort of magic. They keep on winning,” Jones said. “I don't know how they do it, but they just keep on finding a way to win so it’s pretty fun to watch.”