Alpha Dog

A 2008 pitch broke almost every bone in Andrew Giobbi’s face. Only four weeks later  he was back in the game.

A 2008 pitch broke almost every bone in Andrew Giobbi’s face. Only four weeks later he was back in the game.

Gramps, old man, super senior. Vanderbilt catcher Andrew Giobbi has heard it all before. As one of two fifth-year seniors on the roster for 2009–10 (shortstop Brian Harris was the other) in a sport that is short on four-year seniors, Giobbi—who graduated in May—was used to hearing the sarcastic remarks about his seniority in the locker room.

It doesn’t mean he necessarily liked the constant ribbing he got from his teammates, but he understood it. After all, his Vanderbilt career began when this past year’s college freshmen were just starting high school.

Giobbi’s freshman class included Pedro Alvarez, who has just made his major league debut as third baseman for the Pittsburgh Pirates, and high school teammate Ryan Flaherty, who is beginning his second season in the minor leagues. When Giobbi signed with Vanderbilt out of high school in Portland, Maine, he too thought he would be playing professionally by now.

“At that age I think a lot of kids are shortsighted and they want to have a three-year career, get paid, and get out of here,” Giobbi says. “That’s a decision you have to make. If you don’t get the money you want, do you take less or do you return to school?”

Watching as classmate after classmate goes on to play professionally can be difficult. Vanderbilt Head Coach Tim Corbin knows it takes certain traits to flourish in that role.

“It takes a very resilient person to do that,” Corbin says. “Not a lot of people can. He and Brian Harris are two kids who could play professional baseball, and I hope will.”

Giobbi embraced his role on the team as an eldest statesman. It’s the type of leadership role he thrives in. “Being a senior came with a lot of responsibility,” he says. “It was more of an attitude change than an on-the-field change. For example, if you have a bad day at bat, you can’t really show the kind of emotion you may want to show because a younger player is going to see and repeat those actions.”

As someone who is a natural leader, the catching position couldn’t have been a better fit for Giobbi, who was in his second season as Vanderbilt’s starting catcher for 2009–10. “You are the quarterback on the field, and that is exactly how I look at being a catcher,” he says. “I tried to align the defense, and I tried to handle the pitching staff as well as I could and call the pitches.”

He saw his responsibilities increase toward the end of last season when he was granted the right to call pitches, a duty previously held by pitching coach Derek Johnson. Although it added to his tasks as a catcher, it’s a role he enjoyed and knew would help him in the future.

“Seeing D.J. calling the pitches for so many years, I could pretty much tell him what he was going to call before he even called it,” Giobbi says. “It was a little more pressure on me, but once the pitch was called and the guy executed the pitch, it was on me if it got hit.”

Having a veteran behind the plate also assisted Vanderbilt’s pitching staff last season. His experience and familiarity with the pitching staff helped the pitchers to be more comfortable on the mound.

“That’s a position that requires leadership to run the show defensively, and he brought that leadership to the field,” senior pitcher Drew Hayes says. “He brought a mentality of being around here and knowing the ins and outs of pitch calling. That understanding brought a comfort level to the pitchers.”

Giobbi was born with baseball in his blood. His father, Mike, was drafted out of high school as a pitcher by the Chicago Cubs. His brother, Nick, pitched at the Division III level. Giobbi was put behind the plate at a young age. “I think they just stuck me behind the plate to catch my brother.”

Part of what made him such a valuable commodity to the Commodores was his versatility. Between summers in the Cape Cod League and his time at Vanderbilt, he played every position except shortstop and center field during his college career.

A series of baseball-inflicted injuries during the past two years forced the catcher to learn other positions. Last year he missed time during the regular season after fracturing his hand. In 2008 while in the Cape Cod League, he was hit in the face by a pitch.

giobbi2No one would have questioned him had he shut it down for the rest of the summer to heal, but there is no quit in him. Just three and a half weeks after being hit, he returned to action wearing a mouth and face guard. His courageous comeback earned him the Cape Cod League’s Manny Robello 10th Player Award, which is presented to the player who performs above and beyond expectations.

“He’s the only kid I know who would get hit in the face with a baseball, break almost every bone in his face, and then only four weeks later return to a summer team to play,” Corbin says. “He is a hardcore player and a hardcore athlete.”

Giobbi returned to the game in short order, but the recovery time it took to get comfortable in the batter’s box again was much longer. “I don’t think people understand how tough it is to come back from something like that mentally,” he says. “You flinch a little bit, and it takes a while to get out of that.”

In the case of each injury, the time he spent away from the game made him realize how much he missed it. “You step away from the game, and you realize what it means to you to go out there.”

Giobbi graduated in May with a major in human and organizational development and a minor in managerial studies. He hopes he has many games ahead of him as a player, and if not on the field, then maybe as a coach at the college level.

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