SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Veteran infielder Ryan Flaherty made the roughly 40-mile trek from the Indians' Spring Training facility in Goodyear to Salt River Fields on Friday to support Vanderbilt, his former college team, in the inaugural MLB4 college baseball tournament.The Commodores have been one of the top programs in the
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Veteran infielder Ryan Flaherty made the roughly 40-mile trek from the Indians' Spring Training facility in Goodyear to Salt River Fields on Friday to support Vanderbilt, his former college team, in the inaugural MLB4 college baseball tournament.
The Commodores have been one of the top programs in the country in recent years; they're well represented in many MLB organizations and Flaherty isn't shy about sharing how he feels Vanderbilt compares to other schools.
"It's the best program in the country," Flaherty said.
Opening their season against Virginia at the Spring Training home of the D-backs and Rockies, the Commodores showed just why Flaherty -- and other former Vandy players -- are comfortable making that statement. Vanderbilt pounded out 17 hits in a 15-9 win in the MLB4 tournament's MLB Network showcase game.
Flaherty is one of numerous former Vanderbilt standouts now playing in MLB. David Price (Red Sox), Walker Buehler (Dodgers), Sonny Gray (Reds), Dansby Swanson (Braves), Carson Fulmer (White Sox), Mike Minor (Rangers), Tony Kemp (Astros) and Pedro Álvarez (Marlins) are among the 13 former Commodores that made an MLB appearance in 2018.
After playing at Vanderbilt from 2006-08, Flaherty has played seven Major League seasons with the Orioles and Braves. The infielder, who signed a Minor League deal with the Indians last week, said he watches Commodores games as frequently as possible.
"Whether it's players, front office, coaches, every affiliate, every organization has Vanderbilt people in it, so it's something I'm definitely proud of, for sure," Flaherty said. "There are a lot more televised games than when I played there, so I get to watch them."
The Commodores have made it to the NCAA Tournament every year since 2006, a stretch that included back-to-back appearances in the College World Series in '14 and '15. They beat Virginia to win the national championship in 2014, but lost to the Cavaliers the following year.
Virginia has also had success in sending players to the Majors. Current big leaguers Sean Doolittle and Ryan Zimmerman (Nationals), Chris Taylor (Dodgers), Mark Reynolds (Rockies), Brandon Guyer (White Sox) and John Hicks (Tigers) are former Cavaliers.
Vanderbilt, which was ranked No. 1 in the preseason D1Baseball Top 25, scored at least one run in each of the first four innings Friday night, which included eight in the fourth. Austin Martin, JJ Bleday (MLB Pipeline's No. 24 2019 Draft prospect) and Ethan Paul each had three hits.
"You never know how the first game's going to go. You're confident, but you never know," said Paul, who homered and drove in three runs. "We all got some barrels and we all found some grass, so we're excited about that."
While the four teams (Vanderbilt, Virginia, TCU and Cal State Fullerton) participating in the MLB4 tournament will go back to playing at college campuses after this weekend, it may not be long before some of these standouts are back training and playing at MLB facilities.
As the MLB4 tournament is growing the sport by exposing college baseball to a wider audience, it also gives these players a chance to see where their career could head after college.
"At Vanderbilt, Coach [Tim] Corbin has done a great job creating a culture here, and we try to just hold up those standards so that we can represent ourselves as best as we can," Paul said. "That's definitely a motivation for everyone in here. I'm sure I can speak for a lot of guys that they want to play at the next level."
Cal State Fullerton tops TCU in opener
Friday's action started with a matchup between two ranked teams -- No. 19 TCU and No. 25 Cal State Fullerton.
Although TCU had Nick Lodolo (MLB Pipeline's No. 16 2019 Draft prospect) on the mound, it was Cal State Fullerton starter Tanner Bibee who pitched his team to victory. Bibee tossed six scoreless innings, working out of several tough jams, to help the Titans win, 2-0, in both teams' season opener.
Lodolo also fared well, allowing two earned runs over five innings. He gave up a leadoff home run to Daniel Cope in the second and an RBI single to Sahid Valenzuela in the third.
Bibee combined with relievers Gavin Velasquez and Michael Weisberg for the shutout. TCU went 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position, leaving 12 runners on base.
"It was exciting, it was unreal," Bibee said of the Titans' season-opening win. "It just shows us that everyone needs to give us respect. We're young, but we're going to compete and we're going to grind you every single pitch. This competition is definitely something special."
Jake Rill is a reporter/producer for MLB.com based in Phoenix. Follow him on Twitter @JakeDRill.