Andrew Giobbi was out of the Vanderbilt dugout and in full stride when he reached the winning runner, turning his teammate upside down and putting him on the ground. The rest of the team piled on, yelling their delight.

Ouch. Hadn’t anyone remembered what happened to Kendry Morales a week or two ago in Anaheim, Calif.? The explosion of joy over Morales’ walk-off grand slam was replaced quickly by the despair of discovering Morales was at the bottom of the pile with a broken ankle.

“My mind told me not to do it, but my body kept going,” said Giobbi, the former Deering High star catcher. “I had no control. I just spear-tackled him. No one got hurt. It was all so intense.”

Giobbi was talking from a seat on the team bus taking Vanderbilt to the airport in Nashville, Tenn., for a flight to Tallahassee, Fla. and a date in this weekend’s NCAA Super Regional against Florida State. It’s a best-of-three series with the winner heading to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.

“It’s what college baseball is all about,” said Giobbi, a fifth-year senior, who got his Vanderbilt degree in December. “I’ve never played in the College World Series.”

He’s living the best of times this week and he knows it. Vanderbilt beat seventh-ranked Louisville in the final game of the NCAA regional, 3-2 in 10 innings. Twice, the 17th-ranked Commodores needed to score the go-ahead run. Louisville tied the game in the top of the ninth and left the bases loaded.

“That was the most intense game I’ve ever played,” said Giobbi, who worked all 10 innings behind the plate. He typically calls 90 percent of the pitches. As the innings slipped by, the awareness increased that one physical error or one mental mistake could decide the outcome and end one team’s season.

Instead, it came down to execution. Vanderbilt’s Connor Harrell put down the perfect safety-squeeze bunt, sending Curt Casali home with the winning run. Suddenly, everyone’s anxiety was vented in the massive pile near home plate. No one was thinking that Vanderbilt’s two best catchers were on the bottom.

Two days later, the Seattle Mariners took Giobbi in the 32nd round of the amateur draft.

“I’m just really relieved I get an opportunity to keep playing,” he said. “I just hope someday I’ll be playing in Seattle.”

Ryan Flaherty, his former Deering High and Vanderbilt teammate now in the Chicago Cubs organization, gets more attention. The pitching career of Ryan Reid, another part of Deering’s recent baseball legacy, has been followed closely as he toils in Tampa Bay’s farm system. Giobbi is his own study in perseverance.

He arrived at Vanderbilt as a hitting catcher, by his own definition.

“I didn’t really know how to play the position. Coming in, it was tough. Older catchers in front of me — I just wanted to fit in. It was a bumpy road.”

Bumps as in stopping a wild fastball with his left cheekbone in the summer of 2008 while at the plate for the Harwich Mariners of the Cape Cod League. The impact shattered his face in five places. He didn’t need reconstructive surgery and returned in several weeks, wearing a mouth guard, face guard and playing the outfield.

The league awarded him the Manny Robello 10th Player Award for his courage. His friends might call it stubbornness. Last year he fractured his hand and missed 16 games.

“That was just a blip in the grind of any college season,” he said. “I think I’ve played over 300 games here.”

Along the way he became a student of the position. He led the Southeast Conference in throwing out runners this year and was one of 16 semifinalists for the Johnny Bench Award.

“I always had a good throwing arm, but I had to learn a lot of the mechanics,” he said.

Giobbi won’t boast, but the SEC is a running baseball conference, and opponents with 20 or 30 stolen bases seem to run less when he’s behind the plate. Taking a runner off the base paths can feel sweeter than hitting a home run.

He learned how to handle younger pitchers. He learned how to call a game. He learned what it meant to take a leadership role in a locker room that saw many of his teammates graduate to pro ball after two or three seasons.

He’s mentored freshman Regan Flaherty, Ryan’s younger brother, continuing three generations of Flahertys and Giobbis who have played together.

“(Giobbi) is a hard-core player, a hard-core athlete,” Vanderbilt Coach Tim Corbin told the Commodore Nation Magazine this season.

Vanderbilt’s backstop is its backbone.

 

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

[email protected]