Baseball vs. TN Tech

Head coach Tony Vitello during the Tennessee vs TN Tech game on Feb. 22, 2022 at Lindsey Nelson Stadium. 

Tennessee head coach Tony Vitello was thrown out of the Vols’ game last Friday and subsequently, he was thrown off his entire routine.

Vitello earned himself a four-game suspension when he bumped umpire Jeffrey Macias in the Vols’ 9-2 win over Alabama on Saturday after he had been ejected from the game.

Vitello had gone on to the field along with pitching coach Frank Anderson to check on Chase Dollander, who was hit on his right elbow with a comebacker in the first inning of Saturday’s contest. Anderson was already upset with Alabama for relaying Tennessee’s pitches, and he barked at the Crimson Tide’s dugout, prompting Macias to throw him out for “threatening” Alabama’s head coach Brad Bohannon.

Vitello went to defend his pitching coach, and he was tossed from the game himself, at which point he made contact with Macias. Vitello does not regret sticking up for his pitching coach, only that he lost control of his emotions in the process.

“I’ll always defend Frank in that situation again,” Vitello said in a Thursday press conference.

Tennessee’s fifth-year head coach served the first half of his suspension in the Vols’ wins over Alabama on Sunday and Bellarmine on Tuesday. He was not allowed in the stadium, which forced him to watch the game on his laptop.

“If that happens in a game, there’s a ton of adrenaline and it’s not as bad,” Vitello said of dealing with his suspension. “The second game is awful … Tuesday was miserable.”

To remedy his misery, Tennessee’s skipper spent part of his break from baseball raising money for a good cause. 

Vitello had agreed three weeks ago to help the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity’s fundraiser for the Wounded Warrior Project by taking part in a dunk tank alongside head football coach Josh Heupel. A last minute decision by Vitello to abandon the cold water on a chilly day morphed his role into giving out $2 chest bumps Wednesday on Pedestrian Walkway, poking fun at his suspension.

 

“I would never condone the contact that I made on the field,” Vitello said, “but it was for a good cause. Hard to argue with that.”

Having made the most of his absence, Vitello is eager to return to the dugout as the No. 1 Vols (34-3, 14-1 SEC) travel to Gainesville for a weekend series with Florida (23-14, 6-9 SEC). Vitello is eligible to return Sunday for the series finale.

“The penalty is what it is and probably deserving,” Vitello said. “Knock those two games out and I cannot look forward to Sunday any more than I normally do.”

Against a Gators team with a 15-6 home record that took two-of-three from then No. 2 Arkansas at Florida Ballpark two weekends ago, the Vols will have to make do with an interim head coach – though their substitute is hardly their last choice.

Assistant coach Josh Elander stepped into the role of acting head coach after Vitello and Anderson were ejected last weekend, and he immediately led the Vols to a series win. Elander’s success has come as no surprise to anybody in Tennessee’s program. A former catcher, Elander has experience calling the shots, and coupled with his time running Tennessee’s practices, in-game management was nothing new to him.

For Vitello, the biggest positive that came from his suspension was that Tennessee fans got a chance to see Elander coaching at his finest – a gig that could very well be in his future.

“The one good thing that has come out of this is a lot of kudos and respect have been created to coach Elander,” Vitello said. “It’s a chance for Vol Nation, which is obviously incredibly strong, to recognize what we’ve got … And know they know.”

Vitello trusts Elander to navigate the Vols through the first two games of the series, though he will have Anderson’s help. Anderson served just a one-game suspension for his ejection. 

Elander already has one obstacle to navigate, as Kendall Rogers of D1 Baseball reported Wednesday that Florida’s Friday starter Hunter Barco (5-2, 2.50 ERA) is out for the series. The Gators could now throw any number of starting pitching looks at the Vols – a challenge to deal with in its own right.

Above all, Vitello hopes the Vols have put the hoopla in the rear-view mirror and that they can return to a weekend of pure baseball.

“Maybe me being out of it will help, but we’ve had three weekends in a row where politics have popped up,” Vitello said. “I am looking for just ball. Competition is my favorite. Baseball is my second favorite. I’m just looking for that.”

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