Former Lakers standout catches fire in College World Series

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO: VANDERBILT ATHLETICS - While his bat was lively, Campbell did not make an error in handling 10 chances during five pressure-packed CWS games.The Vanderbilt University baseball team is the NCAA baseball champion today, and it is doubtful they would have made it without Tyler Campbell of Lake Oswego.

Every team needs an unsung hero to win a championship, and that is exactly what Campbell was. The sophomore had been stuck on the Commodores’ bench for the entire regular season, getting into only 15 games and batting a mere .133 in his few plate appearance. He had started just one of 67 previous games.

But when Vanderbilt lost its regular third baseman due to an NCAA rules violation, Campbell stepped in. The Commodores, previously winners of zero NCAA men’s titles in their history, won the College World Series, and Campbell seized the imagination of the media with his clutch hitting and flawless fielding. Campbell and the Commodores got to experience the best feeling an athlete can have, ending up in a big, sweet pile of humanity after Vanderbilt defeated Virginia 3-2 in the championship game on June 25.

Now, Campbell has earned a place in College World Series lore, and he admits he didn’t see it coming.

“It was in some ways surprising that I ended up playing in the last five games of the season, especially after not playing much previously,” Campbell said.

Even before the series started, however, Vanderbilt head baseball coach Tom Corbin had predicted that someone who had done little in the regular season would play a major role. Campbell made his coach a prophet. He turned into a human highlight reel, smashing two doubles in one inning in Vandy’s heart-burning 9-8 victory over Virginia, driving in the winning run against Texas, and ended up being named to the College World Series All-Tournament. “Campbell’s star keeps shining” was the headline often used by many newspapers and sports websites.

Still, while the pundits and fans were stunned by Campbell’s achievements, Campbell did not surprise himself, his coach or his teammates. Tyler Campbell is a great ballplayer, and he proved it on the biggest stage in college baseball.

At Lake Oswego High School Campbell was sensational. He was twice first team all-state, once second team-state, and Oregon’s Gatorade player of the year for 2012 after hitting .479 as a senior. The state sports pages were full of acclaim for his slashing hitting, speed and ability to play every infield position. Of course, one of his biggest fans was Lakers head baseball coach Jake Anders.

“Tyler was an amazing athlete when he came to high school, although he was very small in stature,” Anders said. “His baseball skills were very advanced for his age. I worked him out and he could play varsity baseball right away.

“As he progressed through the years he got stronger, and that was the key ingredient. His arm and bat strength got better.”

Anders said he always knew Campbell was a Division I prospect, and as a high school freshman he committed to play for the powerhouse program at Oregon State University. However, as much as college scouts were impressed with Campbell’s skills, Anders said they were always concerned about his size at just 5-11 and 160 pounds.

“There was a change of heart, so a change was made,” Anders said. “Tyler made a call to Vanderbilt because he knew they were looking for a middle infielder.”

When then-Vanderbilt head coach Josh Holliday flew out to watch Campbell play, he immediately offered him a scholarship.

But in his first two years with Vanderbilt baseball, Campbell rarely got off the bench. The Commodores had emerged as a power in the Southeast Conference, probably the best baseball conference in the nation, and their roster was loaded. A lot of former high school hot shots would have quit. Campbell did not.

“I was able to keep myself ready to perform when I was most needed by training in game-like situations every day,” Campbell said. “But being able to maintain confidence in my game while not playing throughout the year was the key to my success in the CWS.

“I had a lot of people throughout the year that helped my morale up. My parents and teammates were very supportive. Coach Anders has also been a huge support that has helped me throughout my high school and college careers.”

“Tyler’s success does not surprise me,” Anders said. “He is an extremely hardworking, dedicated and mature athlete. He was going to put in the time that is necessary to be successful.”

Campbell also comes from a family of national championship wrestlers, and he transferred the gritty wrestling mentality to baseball.

Now, of course, Campbell will be asked, “Can you do it again?” Surely, opposing teams will be on the lookout for him in 2015. Surely, Campbell will be ready.

“I plan to keep playing at a high level,” Campbell said. “Hopefully, I will get a chance to play for a long time.”

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