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VOL. 40 | NO. 11 | Friday, March 11, 2016

Freshman pitcher Raby ‘living a dream’ at Vanderbilt

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Raby

Vanderbilt freshman Patrick Raby was sitting in the bullpen Feb. 19 at Hawkins Field in Nashville in front of 3,054 fans, a record crowd for a Commodore home opener.

Among those in the stands were Raby’s parents, Steve and Pat, Patrick’s brother and sister, and several other family members and friends.

Third-ranked Vanderbilt led San Diego 5-2 after five innings when Commodores coach Tim Corbin pulled starter Jordan Sheffield and called on Raby, a right-hander from Farragut High School.

It was a moment the Raby family will never forget.

“It was pretty cool,” Patrick Raby says. “It felt like everything you could expect, just coming to Vanderbilt, opening night, coming from the bullpen was pretty cool. I didn’t know what to expect, or even if I would get to pitch. It was about everything I expected it to be. I was a little nervous, but it ended up going away once I got out there.”

Not so for his father, who was stunned when Patrick got the call.

“I looked over at everybody around us and said, ‘Really, Corbin, you’re going to put him out there in the first game?’” Steve Raby recalls.

“My heart’s pounding like crazy anyway because I get really nervous when he’s on the mound. Even though he doesn’t show it, I’ve probably got enough nerves for all of us.”

Steve spent two and one-third innings on the edge of his seat while watching Patrick give up three hits, two earned runs and three walks. He also had three strikeouts.

Matt Ruppenthal entered in the eighth, finished the game, and Vanderbilt won, 8-4.

Raby and his family and friends celebrated after the game along with other Vanderbilt players and their families.

“He’s living a dream now,” Pat Raby explains. “To be at a D-1 school, and Vanderbilt on top of that with all the success they’ve had, he’s living his dream now.”

Raby got his first start for Vanderbilt against Eastern Illinois on Feb. 24, a chilly Wednesday night at Hawkins Field. His parents weren’t there, and they missed a big game.

The 6-foot-3, 235-pound Raby went seven innings and gave up one hit, no runs, and struck out 11.

After walking two batters in the second, Raby ended the inning with a strikeout and retired the next 13 Eastern Illinois batters before an infield single in the seventh broke up his no-hit bid.

Vanderbilt won 9-1 and Raby had his first victory as a Commodore – relying primarily on his 90-plus-mph fastball.

“They weren’t catching up to my fastball that day, and I just kept them to the outside corner and ran it back a little bit,” Raby explains. “They were either hitting it softly or they weren’t hitting it, so it ended up working out well for me.”

Raby got his second start Tuesday against Radford, allowing a single and striking out seven in four innings of a 13-4 win against Radford.

He says he's looking forward to the rest of the season as the Commodores, who won the NCAA championship in 2014 and finished runner-up last year, seek another deep postseason run.

“I’m very excited,” Raby said last week before a weekend series at Stanford. “I’m hoping we can keep playing the way we are and keep it up and hopefully get the team back to Omaha.”

Preparing for Vanderbilt

Raby was no secret when he signed up for the Farragut High School baseball team as a freshman in the fall of 2011. He graduated from Farragut Middle School and was a top player in travel ball.

“I knew about him,” Farragut coach Matt Buckner recalls. “He threw like 85 or 86 miles per hour when he was a freshman.”

Raby also played left field and third base his first two years at Farragut, but his forte was pitching.

As a sophomore, Raby went 9-3 with a 1.46 ERA and got the start in the Class AAA state championship game, but the Admirals lost to Collierville, 6-2. Raby went four and two-third innings and allowed one earned run, struck out six and walked three.

Buckner knew he had an ace and a team leader going into the 2013-14 year.

“First of all, he’s a great kid, an unbelievable kid, a great character person, a very steady person,” Buckner says. “He has a very steady work ethic. He’s very consistent in everything he does. He’s just a joy to coach. He’s easy to coach and easy to deal with.

“He’s competitive and has a real simple, repetitive delivery that he repeats real easily. He’s always thrown a ton of strikes. He’s always been a strike-throwing machine, just a real consistent strike-thrower.”

Raby was a high-level Division I recruit by the summer of 2013, and Vanderbilt and Tennessee were in a fierce competition to get him to commit.

Two of Raby’s former Farragut teammates were already headed for Tennessee for their freshman seasons: current All-American junior infielder Nick Senzel and junior pitcher Kyle Serrano, son of UT coach Dave Serrano. He is expected to miss the 2016 season due to an arm injury/surgery.

Vanderbilt also had its attractions for Raby, none greater than Corbin, who has turned the program into a national powerhouse in his 14 seasons in Nashville.

In the fall of 2013, Raby committed to Vanderbilt.

“It was more Coach Corbin and the program than anything,” Raby explains of choosing Vanderbilt. “He’s the best coach you could play for. That might be a little biased for me, playing for him, but he’s everything you read about. He’s a great guy and does everything he can for his players. I’d say it’s mostly because of him and the program why I came here.”

It wasn’t the first recruiting battle Corbin won for a Farragut player.

Philip Pfeifer, a 2011 Farragut graduate, pitched for Vanderbilt from 2012-15, and during his career credited Corbin for helping him through a dark time in his life.

Pfeifer missed the 2014 season for what Corbin termed failing to meet team standards. As the Commodores won the 2014 national championship, Pfeifer watched from a distance, but he rejoined the team that fall and said Corbin helped him get his life together.

The same spring of ’14, Farragut was at its best and so was Raby, who went 8-3 with a 0.92 ERA along with 92 strikeouts and 22 walks in 76 innings.

Raby was dominant in six postseason starts, going 5-0 with four complete games, a 0.21 ERA, 38 strikeouts, and 11 hits allowed along with one earned run.

In the Class AAA state tournament, Raby struck out 13 in a 6-1 first-round victory over Cookeville and three days later started the championship game and gave up three hits in seven innings in Farragut’s 4-0 victory over Houston.

He was the Knoxville News Sentinel’s PrepXtra Pitcher of the Year.

By his senior year, Raby was throwing in the low-90s, and Farragut was poised for another run at a state championship.

“I think what makes him such a winner is just his consistency,” Buckner says. “He throws three pitches (fastball, curve, changeup) for strikes. He’s competitive. He fields his position really well. He holds the running game really well. He’s really good at holding runners. He’s just real consistent in everything. He’s just steady.

“High school wise, he throws 89 to 92 miles per hour, which is pretty difficult for anyone to handle in high school. He’s incredibly efficient.”

Raby was just that as a senior, finishing 11-2 with a 0.79 ERA in 79 and two-third innings. He struck out 124 and walked 22, but his final high school game ended in disappointment.

He pitched 16 innings in the 2015 state tournament and gave up one earned run with 25 strikeouts. He threw a three-hit shutout in the opener against East Hamilton – a 2-0 Admirals victory – and two days later struck out the side in the seventh for the save in a 4-3 victory over Houston.

In the 2015 championship game, Raby got the start against Knoxville’s Hardin Valley Academy. He went eight innings and gave up two runs (one earned), before leaving with the game tied at 2-2 in the ninth. He got a no-decision in a 10-2 loss as four Farragut relievers gave up eight runs (five earned) in the ninth inning against.

It’s a loss that Raby doesn’t let define his high school career.

“I think it was pretty special,” Raby points out about playing for Farragut. “It was fun. Coach Buckner and everybody else, Kyle Waldrop (Admirals assistant coach and former MLB pitcher), they all really helped me with my career and made it special for me.

“I was fortunate to win a state championship my junior year. I was hoping to win the other two I got to pitch in, but it just didn’t work out.”

Raby finished his Farragut career with a 35-12 record, a 1.76 ERA and 349 strikeouts in 267 innings.

Buckner says Raby is a special player and person.

“He’s a great kid. I love him,” Buckner adds. “He’s a really good kid with a great personality. The other guys really like him. He’s just a real likable guy. I’m really hoping he has a super successful career because nobody deserves it more than him.

“He’s dedicated a lot of his life to pitching that ball, and obviously he won a ton of games for us and won us a state championship two years ago. He’s very durable.

“He can go all day, and he’s super strong. He’s a big kid. I don’t have enough good things to say about him. He’s as good as they come.”

Raising a Pitcher

Pat and Steve Raby are more proud of Patrick’s reputation as a teammate and person than his achievements on the ball field.

They raised two other children, Brian and Angela, the same way as Patrick.

“That’s the most important thing to us is what people say about him off the field, what kind of person he is, how he acts around other people, other players,” Steve Raby says.

“He’s tried very hard to give back to the game because he was mentored when he was a (Farragut) freshman by some older guys, A.J. Simcox, Nick Senzel, and different people like that who have now gone on to different places in baseball, and they were all a big influence on him.

“That’s what’s important to us, that and he was a good student, and so far he’s a good student at Vanderbilt.”

The Raby family lived in Louisville, Ky., until 2005, when they returned to Pat and Steve’s hometown of Knoxville.

They moved to Knoxville with the intent of living in the Farragut school district – not because Farragut High was a rising state power in baseball but because of the schools.

“When we moved back, I told Steve specifically, because I went to Farragut, I said I wanted to be in the Farragut school system,” Pat explains. “We knew it was still a good school system because Patrick still had cousins who were in school in Farragut and had gone through Farragut, and those cousins were pretty much the same age as Brian (now 29), but we went to Farragut because of the schools.”

Patrick began taking pitching and catching lessons at Cherokee Baseball Academy in Maryville and after a couple of years switched to Diamond Baseball/Simcox Academy, located in Farragut next to the middle and high schools.

The academy was started by Larry Simcox, father of former UT player A.J. Simcox, and currently in his second stint as a UT assistant baseball coach.

While at Diamond Baseball, Raby began working with Brian Hochevar, pitching coordinator at Diamond Baseball and the father of Kansas City Royals pitcher Luke Hochevar.

“Brian took Patrick under his wing,” Steve Raby says. “He is probably the biggest reason Patrick has been able to keep going to the next level and the next level and the next level. He’s been working with ‘Hoch’ for the last four or five years. He just took off.”

Patrick notes Hochevar has made the greatest impact on his pitching.

“He’s been my pitching coach almost ever since I’ve moved here,” Raby adds. “He’s always been there for me. He’s been my summer ball coach a couple of times. I love being around him. He’s kind of a family member.”

Raby’s career also flourished in the Farragut program and the high competition that goes with it.

His only high school losses in 2015 were to Whitewater (Georgia), in a game in which he gave up no earned runs, and in a pitcher’s duel against College Park (Calif.) ace/USA Today All-American Joe DeMers in the prestigious USA Baseball National High School Invitational.

“Farragut has good coaching with Coach Buckner and Coach (Tommy) Pharr before that, but they constantly have good talent there,” Raby says.

“That’s a big factor (for the success), and a bunch of kids that are coachable and can learn how to play the game of baseball with the help of coach Buckner and Kyle Waldrop the past two years (as assistant).

“It’s really helped them. I just think it’s a special place. It’s a year-around sport there.”

Eye on series vs. Vols

Raby has the April 22-24 weekend penciled in on his calendar.

It’s the SEC weekend series when the Commodores play Tennessee at Lindsey Nelson Stadium in Knoxville.

Farragut and the Knoxville area will be well represented with seven players in the Vols’ dugout: Serrano, Senzel, redshirt sophomore pitcher Eric Freeman, and freshman walk-on catcher Nico Mascia from Farragut; freshman pitcher Will Neely from Hardin Valley; senior utility player Derek Lance from Bearden High; and freshman pitcher Alex Harper-Cook from Maryville High.

“I think it will be fun, especially going to UT this first year,” Raby says. “I played with Nick, and he’s been outstanding the past couple of years, and he’s really kind of put his name out there, and Nico being one of my better friends.

“It’s going to be fun playing against him. It’s going to be competitive. It’s going to be like a normal game, but I think it will be a little more fun for me.”

Raby would love a shot at pro baseball, but he knows it’s a long way away.

There will be plenty of outings to hone his pitching skills in the SEC, the toughest proving grounds in college baseball.

“I’d love to (play pro baseball),” he said. “If it works out that way for me, I’d love to do it. It’s been a dream since I was a little kid. I think it would be amazing to do it, but if it doesn’t work out, there’s always a backup plan with me being here at Vanderbilt.”

His parents are glad he’s there, and they appreciate his work.

“We’re just so proud and fortunate he’s where he is because from the first time we set foot on campus as visitors to this day, everything is so family, it makes you feel like family,” Steve adds.

“I asked him about a week ago after he’d pitched a couple of times, I asked him if he feels he belongs now, and every time I see him he’s got this big smile on his face. I know he’s happy, and I know he’s where he’s supposed to be.”

Pat adds: “With Patrick, he is a truly blessed young man. He is very talented. He has God-given talent, but he also works very hard at it too. He wouldn’t be where he is today without all the work that he’s put into it, all the work that Steve’s put into it with him.”

Dave Link is a freelance journalist living in Knoxville.

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