Hailing from Old Hickory, Kyle Smith has seen enough Black & Gold Series to know what he’s getting into.
Smith, now a freshman infielder/outfielder for Vanderbilt, knows this latest version of the annual fall series is more than a scrimmage.
“It is super serious,” Smith said. “It is a relaxed environment but there is a high level of competition involved. It can be an audition I know for a bunch of guys. It was a coming out party for [freshman Will Cooper] last year. Yeah, in a sense, it is an audition but we scrimmage on a daily basis so there are a lot of chances to show what you got.”
This weekend, however, lets Commodores fans take their first look at 11 freshmen and offers a glimpse at the next budding stars. The Black & Gold Series starts at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, resumes at 6:30 p.m. Friday and ends at 1 p.m. Sunday at Hawkins Field. Admission is free.
Hitting coach Travis Jewett will coach the Black squad with team equipment manager Garrett Walker serving as honorary bench coach. Volunteer assistant Larry Day will coach the Gold with director of baseball operations and former Vanderbilt catcher Drew Fann serving as honorary bench coach. Sophomores Adam Ravenelle and Chris Harvey and freshman Walker Buehler will not play due to undisclosed reasons.
Smith is one of several freshmen who have impressed the coaching staff in one month of fall practices. The 6-foot-3, 220-pounder went undrafted — unlike seven Vanderbilt freshmen — coming out of Mt. Juliet High but his bat speed and potential power have wowed coaches. He hopes to crack the lineup and see playing time at one of the four corner spots in the infield or outfield.
“My role right now is to work as hard as they can and let the chips fall where they may,” Smith said. “Ultimately performance on the field will get you a spot in the spring. As a whole our freshman class has been performing really well. We’ve got a bunch of great guys, great athletes, great players.
“It looks really bright for us in the future and maybe in the immediate future.”
Along with Smith, infielders Dansby Swanson and Xavier Turner, pitcher Carson Fulmer and outfielder Rhett Wiseman have put together solid fall seasons in their freshman year.
Swanson, a 6-foot, 175-pounder from Marietta, Ga., is in the mix with freshman Tyler Campbell and junior Joel McKeithan to replace Anthony Gomez at shortstop.
“It has been a battle all fall,” said Swanson, who was drafted in the 38th round by Colorado. “We’ve definitely gone back at it. It has been fun every day, going out there and pushing each other and helping each other get better. It is definitely good to show to everyone you can play a little bit and compete at the highest level.”
Even with five starting position players returning from last year, nothing is guaranteed.
Two years ago, Tony Kemp dazzled in his first Black & Gold Series — after a spectacular fall series against Texas — and forced coach Tim Corbin to find a spot for him in the lineup. The leadoff hitter earned Freshman All-American honors and sparked a 2011 Commodore squad that reached the College World Series.
“Corbin tells us that your position is rented,” right fielder Mike Yastrzemski said. “It is an audition per say to see what the young guys can do, see what some of the guys who maybe haven’t had their chance yet can do. Just see how people have progressed throughout the year. It is going to be a lot of fun for sure.”