In 2002, at a parking lot overlooking the then-Beautiful Tiger Field, the two head coaches for the 2019 Men’s College World Series finals met.
Tim Corbin, assistant coach at Clemson at the time, had just given Erik Bakich a job as a volunteer assistant. The two instantly hit it off.
“It might have taken me all of about 20 or 30 seconds to recognize what type of person Coach Corbin was,” Bakich said. “And then I got to know his story, and it all made sense. I got there thinking, I'm just going to work the same hours he works, and I had no idea what I was signing myself up for.”
Added Corbin: “But what I found in just the three days, four days, five days of first meeting someone is you just could tell that he had an engine that just was completely different than most people that you meet, just an unbelievable passion for teaching and coaching and being around people.”
Corbin and Bakich would leave Clemson just a year later and build up the college baseball power house that is Vanderbilt. Bakich, in charge of recruiting, created a network that still feeds into the Commodores’ roster today.
“(Bakich) built a recruiting base that stands today,” Corbin said. “But the David Prices, the Pedro Alvarezes, the David Maciases, the Dominic de la Osas, the good players back then, those are because of him. And because of that, it allowed other people like them to want to come to Vanderbilt.”
When Corbin and Bakich first joined the Commodores, the program was nothing to be proud of –– it hadn’t been to the SEC tournament in eight years. Corbin, though, built it up over the next several years with Bakich at his right hand, learning every step of the way.
“He said Vanderbilt would be the skyscraper it is today because of him and his wife, and I was very fortunate to be a part of that,” Bakich said. “What I got from that is a blueprint of how to build something that maybe hasn't done it before, and what it takes to do that.”
It was an invaluable skill for a coach who would take over a struggling Michigan program which had not made the Big Ten Tournament for two years prior to his arrival. Bakich would, of course, build the program up through intensive recruiting to the point it is now.
“(Vanderbilt’s) built the model that everyone in the country that’s a great player but also happens to be a good student, is gonna have Vanderbilt on their list,” Bakich said. “And we just want to have that type of success here where we join that conversation because that conversation doesn’t happen overnight and it doesn’t happen with limited success. You have to be extremely successful, you have to be consistently good. We’ve made inroads into getting some of the top recruits in the country, highlighted by the No. 10 class in the country a couple of years ago.”
The bond between the two coaches goes further than baseball, though. Bakich credits Corbin for introducing him to his wife, Jiffy. After the Commodores won the national championship in 2014, Corbin and his wife sat down for a dinner with Bakich and his wife.
The main topic of conversation? A moment in Vanderbilt’s season where the team found its “playing personality,” where everything clicked, just like it did for Michigan this year.
On Monday, the two coaches will meet for the first time sitting in opposite dugouts. Corbin leading a national powerhouse that competes for a championship yearly. Bakich, in charge of an unlikely contender as he tries to emulate his mentor and friend.