SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Four of the top college baseball programs in the country will be opening the 2019 season in special fashion this weekend.Vanderbilt, TCU, Cal State Fullerton and Virginia are taking part in the inaugural MLB4 Tournament at Salt River Fields, the Spring Training home of the D-backs and
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Four of the top college baseball programs in the country will be opening the 2019 season in special fashion this weekend.
Vanderbilt, TCU, Cal State Fullerton and Virginia are taking part in the inaugural MLB4 Tournament at Salt River Fields, the Spring Training home of the D-backs and Rockies. Over the three-day event, each team will play one game against each of the other three participating teams.
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Here is the schedule for the tournament:
Friday, Feb. 15
TCU vs. Cal State Fullerton, 3 p.m. ET
Vanderbilt vs. Virginia, 7 p.m. ET
Saturday, Feb. 16
Cal State Fullerton vs. Vanderbilt, 3 p.m. ET
Virginia vs. TCU, 7 p.m. ET
Sunday, Feb. 17
Vanderbilt vs. TCU, 1 p.m. ET
Cal State Fullerton vs. Virginia, 5 p.m. ET
The Friday night matchup between Vanderbilt and Virginia will air live on MLB Network and MLB.com. Stephen Nelson will be the play-by-play announcer for the broadcast and will be joined by MLB Network studio analyst Dan O'Dowd and MLB Pipeline senior reporter Jim Callis.
All four participating schools had arrived in Arizona by Thursday, when each team conducted a practice on the back fields and in the batting cages at Salt River Fields.
Three of the teams enter the season ranked in the D1Baseball Top 25. Vanderbilt is ranked No. 1, while TCU (No. 19) and Cal State Fullerton (No. 25) come in near the bottom of the list.
Although Vanderbilt enters the season at the top of several preseason rankings and polls, the Commodores aren't paying attention to any external chatter about their team.
"We've got a lot of depth on this team, we've got a lot of talent," said Vanderbilt outfielder JJ Bleday, MLB Pipeline's No. 24 prospect on the 2019 Draft Top 50 rankings. "We don't really worry about any expectations or any rankings or anything like that. We just take it a day at a time and really just focus on ourselves."
Vanderbilt has made it to the NCAA Tournament in 13 straight seasons. That run includes three appearances in the College World Series, including the 2014 team that won the national championship.
The Commodores' opening night opponent is a familiar one to them. The last time Vanderbilt and Virginia met was in the 2015 College World Series, when the Cavaliers won the national title. However, the Commodores beat the Cavaliers a year earlier to win the 2014 College World Series. Each of those series went a full three games.
"At the end of it, this tournament's not going to make or break anyone, but it's good for all parties just because of the competition," Commodores coach Tim Corbin said.
Virginia coach Brian O'Connor expressed a similar sentiment.
"It's the opening weekend, but certainly you'll find out pretty quick where you're vulnerable and what you're good at and what you need to work on against this level of competition," O'Connor said. "Typically, this is the level of competition that you play at the end of the year in Omaha. It's exciting, and we'll find out a lot this weekend."
Before Vanderbilt and Virginia's College World Series rematch, the MLB4 tournament begins with Friday afternoon's matchup between TCU and Cal State Fullerton. Junior starter Nick Lodolo, the No. 16 prospect in the 2019 Draft Top 50 rankings, is scheduled to take the mound for TCU.
The Horned Frogs have opened the season against Cal State Fullerton twice in the past -- both were losses -- so the program is used to beginning the year against tough competition.
"Playing in an amazing facility against a bracket of opponents that could easily be one side of the College World Series and in front of, I'm sure it's going to be heavily scouted, so it's a great opportunity for them to expose themselves to all the scouts," TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle said. "For our team, it's a great opportunity to figure out what kind of team we are. And certainly, when you're playing Cal State Fullerton, Virginia and Vanderbilt, by the end of the weekend, you're going to know the things you need to get better at, which you want this time of year."
Cal State Fullerton is in a similar position. In addition to those past openers against TCU, the Titans frequently have opened past seasons against Stanford, another consistently strong program.
"It's a pretty good tournament, that's what I'm going to say," Cal State Fullerton coach Rick Vanderhook said. "If you're afraid to play the best, then you might as well not play."
Jake Rill is a reporter/producer for MLB.com based in Phoenix. Follow him on Twitter @JakeDRill.