Wednesday, July 1, 2009

First Impressions

TigerBlog walked around the corner of the balcony of Jadwin Gym and saw a face he'd never seen before in person. TB recognized him from the Web, knew instantly whose face it was.

"Chris Bates?" TigerBlog said.

Bates was here at TigerBlog HQ to officially become the head coach of the Princeton men's lacrosse team. For the first time since Ronald Reagan was still President of the United States, Princeton's lacrosse coach is someone other than Bill Tierney.

And here was TigerBlog's introduction to the new head man. During the next few months, next few years, TB will work closely with Chris Bates and the program he directs. Over time, Bates will realize that he can have his full trust in what TB does for Princeton lacrosse and that in many ways, TigerBlog is now his biggest fan.

All that will come in time. For this particular Monday afternoon, it was all about pleasantries and first impressions. And some thoughts about the past.

Bates said all the right things, said them all the right way. He was self-deprecating when he needed to be, yielded to his wife Ann when he should have. He saw a picture of TigerBlog Jr. in his lacrosse uniform and said "a goalie?" with the same chuckle that any lacrosse coach would. He talked about people he and TB both knew, including the former high school coach in TBJ's school district.

TigerBlog told the new coach that there were several media people who wanted to speak with him, and Bates quickly called them all. TB was struck by the fact that Bates paced up and down the balcony as he spoke to the reporters instead of sitting in a chair.

In anticipation of taking some pictures, TB went to the equipment room to find some "Princeton Lacrosse" gear but could only find a black long-sleeve dri-fit and a white shortsleeve one with the No. 46 on the back. TB laughed at this, as Bates will probably amass hundreds of items that say "Princeton" and "Princeton Lacrosse" on them, and yet these were the first two.

As the day went on, TB couldn't help but think back to when Bates played at Dartmouth before graduating in 1990. The third-to-last game of his career was an 11-4 loss to Princeton in the same year that Tierney first took Princeton to an NCAA tournament.

Going back two years earlier, Tierney was in his first year at Princeton, a 2-13 season that included an 11-8 Dartmouth victory over the Tigers.

What if Tierney and Bates could have been brought together that day in Hanover and had their futures told to them? Hey Bill, you're going to win six NCAA championships at Princeton and reach the lacrosse Hall of Fame. Hey Chris, you're going to be the one who takes over for him when he leaves. Neither would have believed it.

TB has always hated when teams are said to "control their own destiny," because your destiny is just going to happen. Tierney and Bates had no "control of their own destiny" back on a field in Hanover in 1988. It's just happened to them, and now it's brought Bates to Princeton 21 years later.

TigerBlog can't remember exactly what he was looking for the day several years ago that he was going through the files and stumbled upon the Trenton Times of June 18, 1987, and a column by Harvey Yavener on the introduction of the new Princeton lacrosse coach. Yav had his best fastball back then, and it was classic Yav: verbose, thoughtful, a few digs and ultimately jammed with praise. TB could picture Yav and his talk with Tierney, which probably went for a good 30 minutes. The column ended with:

"With that, Bill Tierney left to walk around the Princeton campus with his wife Helen and four young children. 'I'm thrilled to be here,' Tierney said."

Yesterday, TigerBlog took another young coach and his wife around campus, this time in an electric, environmentally friendly golf cart rather than on foot. During the whole ride, TB had Yav's description of Tierney and Helen in his mind, contrasting it with Chris and Anne Bates.

And then they were gone, headed back to Philadelphia and their home. TB had to leave as well, to pick up TigerBlog Jr. and Little Miss TigerBlog at camp.

Little Miss TigerBlog asked TB what he'd done at work all day, and TB said that he'd been working with the new lacrosse coach. TBJ, as big a Princeton lacrosse fan as his dad, immediately looked up from watching "Happy Gilmore" on his Ipod.

"New lacrosse coach?" he said. "What's he like?"

TigerBlog thought for a second and then answered.

"Well," TB said, "he made a very good first impression."


Anonymous said...

Tigerblog....chris bates...can he get it done? give us some random statistics about him and what he was doing while the princeton team was on the spain-ireland trip....

Princeton OAC said...

Random stats about Chris Bates: 1) Drexel was one of 12 Division I teams to win more than 30 games during the last three years; 2) Princeton's Tyler Fiorito ranked first in goals-against and second in save percentage by a freshman goalie last year in Division I; Drexel's Mark Manos ranked second in goals-against and first in save percentage by a freshman goalie; 3) he played against both of Princeton's most recent head coaches, Jerry Schmidt and Bill Tierney, while a player at Dartmouth. As for what he was doing while Princeton was in Spain/Ireland, I'd guess he was watching his son play Little League baseball.

Anonymous said...

You left out the more important Dartmouth/Princeton game which came in 1989...Dartmouth had just lost two overtime games to UMASS and CORNELL..Princeton had not won an IVY game in two years before that game...Princeton played a perfect first quarter and were ahead 5-0 before Dartmouth had the ball on offense...Princeton was playing a roster of mostly freshmen...3 seasons later Princeton won their first National Championship while those freshmen were seniors. Bates was on the field for that significant game in Princeton history.

Rob Littell said...

good luck Chris Bates!

Frank said...

Craig and Frank Caputo wishes a National Championship

All the Best Chris

Our Prayers will include Ann

Steve & Diane said...

Coach Bates,

All the best to you and your family during this difficult time. You are in our prayers.

Princeton is now my #2 favorite college Lax team.