Tony Vitello of Tennessee has a special gift from Omaha: “Moms Baseball”
Tony Vitello isn’t much for decorating an office.
The Tennessee baseball coach has a few pictures and a television on the wall across from his desk. He put a 2015 College World Series chair in a corner. In the corner farthest from the door, he built a bookcase with three rows of books on baseball, coaching, and habits.
On the lower shelf, Vitello has a flat wooden baseball board that is easy to miss. It’s adorned with an orange Power T sandwiched between two black lines: Omaha and 920 Miles.
“If you break it down to miles, it’s not that far,” said Vitello.
The ball was visible next to Vitello’s left shoulder at every Zoom meeting he had during this historic Vols season.
So noted Meghan Anderson, UT director of student services and operations for baseball. She knew what it was when she saw it.
“Must be mom’s baseball,” said Anderson.
Growing up with the College World Series
Anderson never opened the box her mother Marcia mailed in October 2019. She delivered it to Vitello and didn’t think about it until she saw the baseball on the shelf.
Marcia Anderson died that month at the age of 75. She was diagnosed with colon cancer in May and was hospitalized for but a week in the months that followed. She decorated the baseball from the hospital and sent it from Omaha to Knoxville.
“She just wanted to get Tony something to hang up – something about Omaha and achieving Omaha,” said Anderson.
Tennessee is about to make this a reality. The Vols (48-16) are hosting LSU (38-23) in a super region starting Saturday (7pm ET, ESPN2) with the chance to reach Omaha and the College World Series for the first time since 2005.
Anderson, 41, grew up in Omaha and played college soccer in Nebraska.
Marcia – known to most as Marty – grew up in Council Bluffs, Iowa, across the Missouri River from Omaha. Her father, LaVere McClure, took her to the College World Series, which has been held in Omaha since 1950. Marcia and her husband Dana repeatedly took Meghan and her brothers Ted and Tim to the Rosenblatt Stadium. And now Ted is taking his kids to TD Ameritrade Park, the show’s home since it opened in 2011.
Marcia loved baseball and the college world series. She cherished seeing teams come through each year and picked out favorite teams. She encouraged her daughter to work on the games as soon as she was old enough.
Taking her mother’s advice, Anderson worked at an outdoor lemonade stand and walked the aisles selling popcorn. But her fondest memories are sitting on the fence between games and watching legendary coaches and championship teams hit training.
She wants the Vols to experience what she grew up with, a dream catapulted into reality in Tennessee’s prime season since the late 1990s.
“Tony pulled her into that belief,” said Anderson. “It’s almost like a maestro in an orchestra. We watch it unfold in front of us and it’s a beautiful thing. Seeing you in Omaha would be very emotional for me. The coach will understand it even better than some of the guys. “
Tony Vitello’s best source of motivation
Vitello did not immediately open the box. He waited a couple of days.
The box contained the baseball and a letter.
“It wasn’t just a letter from a college buddy,” Vitello said. “I knew what was wrong with her mother and she took the time to let me know. It’s unbelievable that she did that. “
Vitello is the only one who has read the letter he keeps in the top right drawer of his desk. He said it focuses on important memories of life but has a special focus on what Tennessee is trying to do and the vision for the program. He’s read it a dozen times in the past 20 months.
“That was probably (one of the) best sources (of motivation) I’ve had since my time in Knoxville,” Vitello said.
THE FUTURE:Tennessee Baseball prepares to invest in Tony Vitello, Lindsey Nelson Stadium
Marcia and Vitello never met or spoke. She knew about Vitello while in Missouri, where Meghan Anderson worked in the baseball program from 2007 to 2013 before joining UT. Marcia believed in Vitello and often texted her daughter about how great Vitello got as an assistant at TCU and Arkansas.
When the position in Tennessee opened in 2017, she texted Anderson and said, “You need to get Tony.”
“She could tell he had the right things about him,” said Anderson. “She knew this job was going to be a challenge to change and she believed that they could come to Omaha and start really seeing these things. …
“She always said he had what it takes to set up a program and get kids on board.”
Vitello was hired and quickly built the UT program. The Vols reached the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2005 in 2019.
Marcia always watched. She watched games on TV and streamed others. She tracked results and statistics, and listened to John Wilkerson on the radio. She texted her daughter during games and joined Tennessee baseball.
“If you think about that time, she’d be excited now,” said Anderson. “If we made it to Omaha, we couldn’t even contain it. It would get out of hand. She would like to bring orange slices to the game. “
Omaha is the word
Vitello planned – and still plans – to hang the baseball on the wall of his office. He wants it to be the first thing players see when they step in.
It stays on the shelf for the time being. Vitello sees it when he looks at the field or switches from one desk to another.
“The word at the top stands out and that’s Omaha,” said Vitello. “Omaha is a way of thinking. Nobody just wants to go to Omaha, lose two games and go home. Omaha is different to say the Final Four or the College Football Playoff.
“Omaha is an approach that you think about every day.”
Vitello didn’t tell his players the story behind the ball and none of them asked about it. He’s been going back and forth over when to tell Anderson’s story and the story behind baseball. He plans to eventually read a paragraph of the letter to his team while keeping the rest private.
Anderson sat outside TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha on October 19, 2019. She prepared to drive back to Knoxville for the night, but stopped first to get food and take her dog for a walk.
“That was just a place that I knew meant so much to both of us,” said Anderson. “It’s a place where I feel like I could just still connect with her.”
Anderson got a call the next day that her mother had died.
She thinks of her mother a lot during the Vols baseball games, especially when the games come to a wild end – a common occurrence this season. She also thinks about the things her mother did that make her a living.
The baseball in Vitello’s office is one of them.
“It’s a reference to her, but also a bigger reference to him,” said Anderson. “He’ll probably get 1,000 items in the mail, I could imagine. To say it, it makes me smile when I see it. “
Knoxville Super Regional
Match: No. 3 seeds Tennessee (48-16) vs. LSU (38-23).
format: Best of 3 series; all games at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
Time schedule: Game 1 – Saturday, 7pm, ESPN2; Game 2 – Sunday, noon or 3 p.m., ESPN2 or ESPNU; * Game 3 p.m. – 4 p.m. or 7 p.m., ESPN2 or ESPNU.
Tickets: All session tickets are sold out. Standing tickets only ($ 15) are sold 90 minutes before each game at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
Mike Wilson reports on the University of Tennessee Athletics. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @ByMikeWilson. If you like Mike’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that gives you access to everything.