Wednesday, August 26, 2009

"Small Time" No More

Five years and a few months ago, this TigerBlogger was parked next to a sunny baseball field in Bradenton, Fla., watching Bucknell, TB's employer at the time, battle Dartmouth. A senior from Garden City, N.Y., named Matt Daley was on the hill for the Bison, taking a no-hitter into the sixth inning when one of the Dartmouth kids hit a grounder that the shortstop air-mailed over first base.

TB was sitting alongside a marketing kid from Dartmouth, sent as the team's sports info rep for the trip, on the first-base line extended behind home plate. Not the best vantage for seeing a close play at first. An error, we decided.

Apparently, it was a controversial call. Later on, a parent from the Indiana University baseball team, also in this tournament, asked if we were the ones who called the play an error. We were, we said. The dad then replied, "That's why you're small time."

As an aside, so as not to leave the story unfinished, the Dartmouth kid wanted to change the error to a hit in the eighth inning and had the power to do so as the home scorer, but TB suggested making a hit suddenly appear on the board two innings later was not the best course of action. Daley gave up a double after 8 2/3 of no-hit ball, but threw a seven-inning no-hitter against Lehigh later in the season.

Daley went undrafted out of Bucknell, though he signed with the Colorado Rockies and began his pro career in the Pioneer League outpost of Casper, Wyo. TB all but forgot about him after that and his next stop in Asheville, N.C.

This summer, Matt Daley is no longer "small time." There he was last night, called in to preserve a one-run lead for Colorado against Manny Ramirez with a runner on third. After zipping two strikes past the dreadlocked one, Manny singled to tie the game, giving Daley his second blown save of his rookie season.

Daley himself probably has nothing to do with Princeton, but his story has plenty to do with a few fortunate individuals those of us at TigerBlog HQ have had the privilege of working with over the years.

No one could have known that the kid TB followed throughout the Patriot League in 2004 would be dueling a Hall of Fame-caliber hitter in the heat of a pennant race. Then again, if someone had told Will Venable five years ago that he and Albert Pujols, famous enough at that time, would cause a stir by getting into a minor skirmish last Sunday, who wouldn't have had a laugh?

As talented as he was and is, the actual sight of Chris Young pitching in the All-Star Game must have taken a moment to sink into the minds of those who saw him up close in Jadwin Gym or at Clarke Field. Ross Ohlendorf was facing Ivy League hitters and leading the Tigers to the NCAA tournament earlier this decade, and last night he left the Pittsburgh Pirates with a 3-2 lead over the reigning World Series champions from South Philly. It was only seven years ago that Steve Goodrich last played in the NBA, and his name shared the box score with some future Hall of Famers too.

It's a little different, of course, seeing guys like Daley, Venable, Ohlendorf and Young through the television screen or reading their names on rather than watching them filing down the bus aisle on the way to Colgate or Columbia. They were college kids then, they're professionals now, and TB figures it offers lessons for them and for everyone else.

Enjoy it while it lasts, whether "it" is a college experience or a professional career. For TB and all those along the way, it reminds us to enjoy them and their talents while we get to see them compete just a few feet away in person. Once that's gone, we can only remember what they were like back when.

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