Vanderbilt coach will keep rooting interest at home for CWS opener

Monday, June 13, 2011 at 10:46pm

If television cameras find Kevin Stallings this weekend at the College World Series and he is wearing a Carolina blue T-shirt, don’t blame the Vanderbilt men’s basketball coach.

His son picked out his wardrobe.

“If he does wear Carolina blue, Vandy fans don’t get mad at him,” Jacob Stallings said. “It was me. I’m making him wear it if I can get him to wear it.”

Jacob Stallings will be behind home plate, playing catcher for North Carolina when the Tar Heels open against Vanderbilt on Saturday at the eight-team, double-elimination tournament in Omaha, Neb.

So the elder Stallings will have to split his allegiances. Well, sort of.

“I love Vanderbilt, I love the people here and love the university and the opportunity it has provided for me and my family,” Kevin said. “But I don’t love Vanderbilt as much as I love my son. So it is not difficult in terms of whom I am for or anything like that. The difference that I have going into this weekend than most people, I have two teams that I am rooting for.

“I hope if Jacob’s team doesn’t win the national championship ... that Vanderbilt does.”

The Stallings family has been to the CWS before — two years ago when Jacob was a freshman and he was a backup catcher and sparingly-used designated hitter.

Last year, he started at catcher for 41 of 52 games and hit .307. This season he has played an even bigger role, starting all 64 games. He’s batting .287 for the Tar Heels (50-14) with 16 doubles and 41 RBIs.

With his mother, father and sisters in attendance on Saturday, he went 3-for-5 with three RBIs and two stolen bases in North Carolina’s super regional and CWS-clinching victory over Stanford.

“I told my dad it felt better to be on the bottom of the dogpile [at the end of the game], rather than on the top,” Jacob said. “Just being a contributing factor to this year’s team and being one of the team’s leaders, it was definitely a proud day for me.”

Jacob was an all-state selection out of Brentwood Academy where he played on state championship teams in baseball and basketball. The 6-foot-5, 215-pounder didn’t go unnoticed by Vanderbilt, a place where he spent many hours since his father was hired in 1999.

Head baseball coach Tim Corbin offered Jacob a scholarship but also gave him a heads up. Andrew Giobbi was behind the plate at the time and highly-touted Curt Casali, now a senior, was next in line. So there was a good chance that Jacob would only have played catcher for one full season if he had chosen Vanderbilt.

“It just worked out to where it was a better situation at North Carolina,” Jacob said. “Vanderbilt is certainly where I grew up thinking I was going to go and where I wanted to go but it just didn’t work out. Coach Corbin was looking out for my best interest and he actually told me that it would be a better situation for me to come here. Obviously, that was a very nice thing for him to do and just one of the reasons I have a tremendous amount of respect for him.”

Earlier this week, Jacob was drafted in the 42nd round by the Cincinnati Reds. The 21-year-old, however, plans to return for one more season, get his degree in sports administration and hopefully improve his draft stock.

At the moment, though, his focus turns to playing in the College World Series for North Carolina, which is the third seed nationally. The Tar Heels are playing in their fifth CWS in the last six years and should be a tough out for Vanderbilt.

While it puts his father in an “awkward” rooting situation, the matchup won’t be an easy one for Jacob, either.

“I’m extremely close not only to a bunch of players on the team, but all the coaches, particularly Coach Corbin,” Jacob said. “It will be different but I am just going to have to try and do my best to treat it like another game.”

It is still unknown what colors the patriarch of the family will be wearing this Saturday. But there is no doubt which team Kevin Stallings will be cheering for when 1 p.m. rolls around.

“He told me that when we played North Carolina in basketball this year, that he wore a Vanderbilt basketball shirt to class the next day after we beat them,” Kevin said. “I don’t know, we’ll have to see. ... If my family is involved, that is who I am for. It just happens to be that he doesn’t play for the school that I work at. Like I said, it is a little bit awkward but that is my son we are talking about.”

Schedule set: Vanderbilt will open the 2011 College World Series when it faces North Carolina at 1 p.m. Saturday, the first game of the event.

The Commodores are the only first-time participant among the eight teams, which include two others from the Southeastern Conference — Florida and South Carolina.

With a victory Saturday, Vanderbilt will play the winner between Florida and Texas at 6 p.m. Monday. With a loss, it will face the Florida-Texas loser at 1 p.m. Monday.

The best-of-three championship series will begin June 27.