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Dissecting Tony Vitello's rant after No. 1 Tennessee beat Evansville to return to College World Series

IMG_3593by:Grant Ramey06/11/24


Volquest Breaks Down Tennessee Baseball's Super Regional Win As The Vols Punch Their Ticket To Omaha

Tony Vitello called his shot. He was about to go long with his opening statement to start his press conference after No. 1 Tennessee beat Evansville 12-1 in Game 3 of the Knoxville Super Regional Sunday night at Lindsey Nelson Stadium. 

It was going to be up to someone else to stop him.

“You guys made the mistake of giving me the mic,” Vitello said, “ … if you got to cut me off, cut me off.”

No one cut Vitello off. So he went back to Saturday’s postgame press conference, after Evansville had rallied for a 10-8 win in Game 2, forcing Sunday’s do-or-die with a berth in the College World Series in Omaha on the line. 

There was a question asked that bothered Vitello and bothered Tennessee first basemen Blake Burke. And Vitello wasn’t going to Omaha quietly. 

“You guys being the No. 1 team in the country all season long,” the reporter asked, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel’s Mike Wilson, “it is the same narrative. Does tomorrow’s game weigh a bit more then for you guys — meaning if you guys lose it could be another unsuccessful season for you guys?”

The reporter who asked the question was not named. But Vitello had plenty of names in his long, winding road of an answer. 

What is success?

Defining a successful and unsuccessful season is where Vitello took exception. And with the question not being factual.

“It started out as we were No. 1 for most of the season,” Vitello said. “That’s an incorrect statement. It’s not a fact. I don’t know who was No. 1 preseason because I don’t look at it. It’s a very difficult sport to predict what’s going to happen. Nobody predicted Evansville to be here, but they were.”

Tennessee (55-12) took over as the No. 1-ranked team on May 6, after a series win at Florida. From there, the Vols would win a share of the SEC’s regular-season championship, win the SEC Tournament and become the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. 

But the No. 1 ranking has only been attached to the Vols for a month. 

“We were not No. 1 majority of the season,” Vitello said. “As a matter of fact, when we first took over, I was astonished. Kentucky was winning our league, which you guys write up — it’s one of the most, if not the most competitive league. And they were No. 1 in the division. But somehow we were No. 1 on writers’ polls. But we weren’t for most of the season we had to work to get to that point. No question.”

And that work, Vitello added, started from the bottom. 

When he was hired by Tennessee in June 2017, it had been 12 years since the Vols had been in the NCAA Tournament. They had only four College World Series appearances to their credit over 70 years.

Now Tennessee is back in Omaha for the second straight year and third time in four seasons. The Vols have been to four straight super regionals, have won 12 straight regional games and have hosted three regionals and three super regionals. 

“I’ve stayed in an awful lot of hotels to be in this position,” Vitello said, “alone and running around and watching games. And we’ve done it I think from the ground up here.”

But he wasn’t done with the term success. 

Noah Webster and his dictionary

Because the word success is so important to the Tennessee program, Vitello said he makes his players write down their definition of the word. 

“And teach them that they need to define what a successful at-bat is,” he said, “or what a successful outing is. Whatever.”

Meet Noah Webster, the lexicographer and a language reformer who in 1806 wrote his first dictionary. 

“Noah, it’s Noah Webster —  Webster’s Dictionary,” Vitello said. “It says success is ‘a degree or measure of achievement.’ Or if you read in another deal online, ‘degree or measure of succeeding.’ So those two words right there — and I definitely ain’t the smartest fellow — ‘degree’ and ‘measure’ means you get a pick. You get to pick what success is, which is pretty awesome.”

Vitello’s point: Noah Webster, who died in 1843 at the age of 84, wouldn’t know how to define success for Tennessee baseball. The definition is personal to the Vols because of the degree and measure. 

“Where you got to sweat,” Vitello said, “you got to be in the weight room together. You got to trust the guy. If you give up a ground ball can make the play for you. Or if you give up a run, the other guy will go to work for you. 

“(Noah Webster) wasn’t that, but he was a thinker,” Vitello continued. “And the big thing Noah was, he loved his country. Big-time patriot. Which is kind of a lost art around here. So I don’t know the guy, but I got a lot of respect for him and I liked the way he wrote that whole deal up as far as degree or measure.”

No handouts 

Roughly 200 words into his 1,372 word opening statement, Vitello veered hard toward recruiting if only to take a quick shot. His message: Don’t come to Tennessee expecting a handout.

“And while I’m at it,” Vitello said, shifting gears, “anybody that’s thinking about visiting our place that we’re recruiting and you think this is a place you can come and have your hand out and see how much money we can give you, don’t waste our time and don’t waste your time either.”

Tennessee hosted four transfers on recruiting visits over the weekend: Miami utility man Blake Cyr, Louisville infielder Gavin Kilen and Wichita State pitcher Tommy Lapour.

Jared Dickey and the 2022 Tennessee Baseball team

Turning his focus back on the field, Vitello wasn’t about to let a reference to his 2022 Tennessee team go unnoticed either. That season wasn’t going to be labeled unsuccessful after the Vols lost to Notre Dame in Game 3 at home. 

“We could have won 30 games in 2022,” Vitello said of a team that finished 57-9 and took over as the No. 1 team in the country in March.

Jared Dickey, who hit .328 with 12 home runs, 52 RBI and 55 runs scored that season, was on Vitello’s mind when, too.  

“Jared Dickey, who had a phenomenal post on social media today, transformed his entire body after quitting baseball,” he said, “as a part of one of the best teams and was a success as an individual among many other great things that happened about it.

“Hey, you didn’t like the team?” Vitello added, referencing the brash play from the 2022 Vols. “So what? They got you talking about college baseball, I can tell you that. To me, that team was a success.”

Playing with house money

In 2021, the first time Vitello took Tennessee to Omaha, the Vols went 0-for-2 and were sent home. They lost to Virginia in their College World Series, then were eliminated by No. 2 Texas two days later.

“Omaha is real fun to go to,” Vitello said. “If you don’t play that well, it ain’t that fun. But I don’t really give a damn, to be honest with you.”

Last season, after losing the opening game to LSU, Tennessee beat Stanford. It was the program’s first win in a College World Series game in 21 years. LSU was waiting on the other side, though, and eliminated the Vols a day later. 

This team, Vitello said, is ready to take the baton from Evansville. After eliminating the tournament’s Cinderella team, he wants his Vols to have a chip on their shoulder.

Even if they’re ranked No. 1 and are the No. 1 overall seed. 

“We kind of can pick up where Evansville left off,” he said. “We’re not supposed to win because the No. 1 never wins. So house money. So I’m going to consider this even more of a success this year, but definitely because of that group in particular being the way they are.”

A salute to Evansville’s Ty Rumsey

Vitello had one more side road to go down before opening the floor to questions.

It was focused of Evansville outfielder Ty Rumsey, the player injured in Game 1 of the Super Regional after crashing into the outfield wall.

He made the final out Sunday, with his team coming up one win short of an unthinkable run to Omaha, after an improbable run to the Super Regionals.

“(To) be told you never got to play in Omaha, you know what, Rumsey can get on a plane and go to Omaha anytime he wants, alright?” Vitello said. “That’s easy to do.”

What’s not easy to do was the question Vitello then asked out loud. 

“To run face first into a wall full blast, get stitches, injure your shoulder, and then on top of that, to play in today’s game,” he said, answered himself. “I’ve seen that guy, that guy made me nervous. I’ve seen a bunch of catches that guy made when we watch video. He made me nervous. 

“So Omaha or not, who gives a damn? That guy’s an absolute success. And when he is older, he’ll be able to look everybody in the eye and say, ‘when I played — I don’t know what the hell his batting average is — I was a warrior. A warrior, period. And a part of one of the best Evansville teams ever.”

And a success. 

“And no one will ever be able to take that away from him,” Vitello said in closing. “And every time he sees one of his teammates or goes back to that facility at Evansville, they’ll say, ‘hell yeah, there’s that guy right there.” 

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