August 13, 2010


Esposito Caps Sophomore Season with Silver Medal

By Jimmy Jones

Special to


In every sport, we see players who are integral parts of their team's success but fail to gain the recognition given to flashier rivals or those that play in larger media markets where they enjoy maximum exposure. Their anonymity may be attributable to playing in the shadow of better-known teammates, getting lost in the shuffle in a star-studded conference like the SEC, or for any of a variety of other reasons.


It may be understandable for Jason Esposito to go unrecognized beyond the Vanderbilt campus in Nashville, Tennessee for now, but don't look for that trend to continue next season when he suits up to play third base for the Commodores.


He is one of the first players to the field for practice or game day and he is one of the last to leave, earning praise from Commodore coach Tim Corbin for his work ethic and leadership this season.


Somehow, the five-tool future star hasn't been noticed on a national level yet.


That will change in the coming season.


Esposito, a true sophomore, had a stellar campaign last spring for the Commodores, batting .359 with 12 homers, and 64 RBI. He also stole 31 bases in 35 attempts and boasted a .455 on base percentage. His 25 doubles led the Southeastern Conference.


Despite the impressive numbers, he was left off the All-SEC team because of the outstanding seasons that Arkansas' Zach Cox and Florida's Brian Johnson recorded and wasn't on the list of All-Americans, even in the honorable mention category, when the votes were tabulated.


Undeterred, Espo (as his he known to teammates) went on to lead VU to 46 wins, the second-most in school history, and to its first-ever Super Regional in Tallahassee against Florida State where he hit .444 with two home runs,  drove in five runs, scored four times and stole two bases.


The 6'1", 190-pound Connecticut native, who turned down a reported $1.5 million bonus from the Kansas City Royals out of high school, had just settled in for the summer with the Orleans Firebirds in the Cape Cod League when he got a call from Sonny Gray, his teammate at Vanderbilt and a member of the USA Collegiate National Team, who casually asked if he would like to come play ball with them for the summer. 


"I had no idea that I was being considered," Esposito said. "I was at home on my day off visiting with family and friends when Sonny (left, with Esposito) called and asked me if I wanted to play. The next day I was on my way to join the team."


He was not in the original group of 38 that was invited to the trials, but was foremost on the minds of the USA coaching staff when Dick Howser Trophy winner Anthony Rendon injured his ankle early on to end his summer.


"Jason had been on our radar for a year in selecting this team, but we felt like Anthony was going to make our team and play third base most of the games for us this summer," Team USA Head Coach Bill Kinneberg said.


"When Anthony got hurt,” Kinneberg said, “Jason was the first word out of my mouth that night. He came in and really kind of saved us a little bit. It was a difficult deal for him because we had already been through the trials and was in the middle of the Korean series when he joined us.


"He came in and was thrown into the spotlight right away, but he handled it great and became a very vital part of our team's success because of what he brought to the team."


Esposito promptly went to work and put together a nine-game hitting streak and played outstanding defense at the hot corner to help his team to a silver-medal finish at the World University Baseball Championships in Japan.


"It was a great experience and probably the most fun that I have ever had playing baseball," Esposito said. "Playing on Team USA with some of the best kids in the country against some of the best competition in the world on a daily basis was a great experience.


"The kids were outstanding and the coaching staff was great to work with. It was just first class all the way. My only regret is that we didn't bring back the gold medal."


Ask him about his lack of attention and Esposito responds in his own typical understated style.


"My only concerns are that we came up one game short of the World Series last season and no one on our team is going to settle for that. This sport is not about individuals or awards, it is about team effort and winning championships. That is my focus for next season and anything less will be a disappointment. The rest of that stuff will take care of itself."


There are athletes who when they take the field, everyone knows it. Then there are those who quietly earn the spotlight with leadership, talent, and by giving back to the game with a strong work ethic on and off the diamond.


Jason Esposito is just that type of player. The Vanderbilt Commodores coaching staff recognized those qualities two years ago when they recruited him.


He may not enjoy the extra attention, but the rest of the nation will soon know as well.


(photos by Jimmy Jones, medal photo courtesy of Jason Esposito)