Monday, August 31, 2009

Jon Solomon, Media Member?

Back in the day, TigerBlog's introduction to Princeton athletics was mostly through covering the men's basketball team for the local newspaper. TigerBlog was issued a media credential, which gave him access to the players and coaches. TB obviously wrote pregame stories, attended games, wrote game stories afterwards, wrote feature stories, focused on recruiting in the off-season and generally did the basics that sportswriters do.

Princeton played in the Oldsmobile Spartan Classic at Michigan State in 1990, and TigerBlog was the halftime guest of then-radio play-by-play man David Brody during one of the games (Princeton knocked off Arkansas-Little Rock and then fell by two to Michigan State in the final). It wasn't long before TB was part of the game broadcasts as the color commentator, with just Brody on the road and then with Brody and Rich Simkus during home games.

All of this brings us to Jon Solomon. For those who don't know, Solomon runs a Website called, the focus of which is obvious. Solomon does most of the same types of things that TigerBlog did back in his newspaper days, with a focus on the written word and on audio content. Like TB, Solomon has a media credential, which like TB gets him access to the players and coaches.

There is a major difference, though. TigerBlog did all this because it was his job; Solomon does it because he is a fan. He makes no secret of that, and the focus of the site is from the fan's perspective.

He follows the entire Princeton basketball tree, which means that the site offers links to stories about any former Princeton player or coach and their current teams, whether it be Will Venable in the Major Leagues or Judson Wallace in Europe or John Thompson with Georgetown or anyone else.

There can be no doubt that Solomon's site is a good one and a great source of information for any Princeton basketball fan, especially in one area: recruiting. (or TigerBlog or any official university publication) cannot talk about prospective athletes until they've been admitted officially and returned their card that signifies that they've accepted the admissions spot. Solomon's site can say anything it wants anytime it wants.

As a result, Princeton basketball fans can follow the recruiting process from start to finish and then get game-by-game updates on athletes who have said (or had their parents or high school coaches say for them) that they were attending Princeton. Solomon can link to information on athletes who have even remotely mentioned they were interested in Princeton, whether they end up here or not. No University publication can do this.

This subject, and the larger ramifications of it, were covered recently by the Washington Post in an excellent story about the continued blurring of the line of what makes someone a "journalist." As an aside, one of the writers, Eric Prisbell, is a former Trenton Times writer; as another aside, TigerBlog first saw the story when it was one of the links that Solomon puts on his site.

It took TigerBlog awhile to warm up to the idea of offering Solomon the access that he has. Most of the reason TB is okay with it is because Solomon himself has proven he can be trusted not to abuse this access, and the result is a quality product.

At the same time, Solomon sits in the stands during games, not in the press section. TB always wants to make a point of seeing if Solomon cheers during games but can never remember to do so while the game goes on. If there are any rules of journalistic integrity remaining, can at least it be the idea of not cheering in the press box (something that TB has seen more and more of through the years, and it makes him cringe)?

TigerBlog, of course, always wanted Princeton to win when he was covering the team for the paper (at least after he got past the whole "being a graduate of Princeton's biggest rival" thing), but it's not something that ever was visible outwardly.

One of two things happen when a reporter covers a team for a long time: Either the reporter becomes a fan of the team, or the reporter starts to root for everything that can possibly go wrong for the team to go wrong (we call the latter "The Eckel Theory"). There's almost no middle ground.

When it was a bunch of newspaper guys in a press box, the worst thing that could happen was they'd compete to see who could say the funniest, most sarcastic line. Now, there are greater ramifications.

When you have someone who has great access to coaches and that person wants to help the coaches, especially in recruiting, it puts them in position to cross a line that a university can't have crossed. If Solomon wanted to, there's little stopping him from being a quasi-recruiter of his own as he interacts with recruits and potential athletes.

There are two issues for Princeton in all this. First is the idea of what to do to make sure that no compliance rules are being violated, even if nobody at the university is directly involved in them.

The second is the one that directly affects us here at TigerBlog HQ. Who is entitled to a credential? NCAA tournament credentials used to read: "full-time, salaried employee of an accredited media organization." The NCAA used to prevent reporters from Websites from getting credentials. Now the issue is beyond that, to bloggers and as we move along every "social networking" function.

TigerBlog's rule for issuing credentials used to be "are you producing some original content off of the credential?" Even that doesn't work anymore. Solomon runs a legitimate site; what about the next person who comes along who calls himself a media member and has some homemade site? What if it's an anti-Princeton site?

The sport of lacrosse has skyrocketed in terms of the number of Websites there are. TB routinely gets requests from sites he's never heard of before. Should we let them in? What about people who request a photo pass and then want to sell the pictures?

Factor into all of this the point that Princeton athletics has become its own media outlet, with a Website, a blog, a TV channel and everything else.

Today, it's all changed, and it will continue to change. Princeton has an equal responsibility to protect itself and to offer access to legitimate media members, but the definition of what is a legitimate media member isn't so obvious.

None of the issues are as clear as they used to be. You write for the paper? Here's your pass and your seat on press row. You don't write for a paper? There's the ticket office.

It's a policy that is outdated. The new policy? There really isn't one.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Where Have You Gone, Cody Webster?

For anyone who was old enough to experience it as it unfolded, there has never been - and nor will there ever be - another event in the world of sports that will generate as much nationalistic pride in this country as the 1980 Olympic hockey did.

If you're younger than, say, 35, you can't really imagine what it was like to watch a team of American college hockey players win the gold medal and defeat the Soviet machine along the way. Beyond the sport aspect, you also need to understand what happened in terms of the political climate of the times.

It was like "Hoosiers" and "Rocky" added together and then taken to a power of 10.

Now, if you want to ask TigerBlog what is second on the list of sports moments that have impacted American national pride, he can come up with a few for you. And either near or at the top of that list is the name "Cody Webster."

Taiwan first appeared at the Little League World Series in 1969, and the tiny island nation (now called Chinese Taipei for the purposes of international athletic events) proceeded to rip off 10 championships in the next 13 years. One of the years that Taiwan didn't win was 1975, when Little League banned foreign teams from participating.

Heading into the 1982 LLWS championship game, Taiwan had won 31 straight games in Williamsport. By then, it was a familiar ritual for the American sports viewer. The final, and only the final, would be televised on ABC's "Wide World of Sports," and every year it'd be a different random town from somewhere in the U.S. that would get pasted by Taiwan.

This was our game, our national pastime, and a bunch of kids from Taiwan routinely crushed us in the final? Every American began to say the same things: The kids from Taiwan were too old or they had to be drawing from more than one area or they were cheating in some other way. It couldn't be because Taiwan was simply better than we were at OUR game.

And then along came a chubby little kid from Kirkland, Wash., named Cody Webster, who wiped out the Taiwan lineup as the American team won 6-0. It was a win that became a tremendous source of national pride, and it made a Webster into an American hero.

Fast forward to now, and the Little League World Series is nothing like the quaint, charming sporting event it was back then. Back then there were four U.S. team and four foreign teams that advanced to Williamsport for a single-elimination tournament. Today, there are eight American teams and eight foreign teams in two round-robin pools, and every game in on ESPN or ESPN2. Even the regionals are televised.

The LLWS opens the door to all kinds of questions. Is it a good thing or bad thing for 12 year olds to be playing baseball on national television? Is it a good thing or bad thing for them to be doing it in games that routinely run past 10 pm.? What is the downside of realizing that for most, if not all, of these kids, there will never be another opportunity to play a sport with this kind of attention?

Then there's the TV coverage aspect, and it's one that carries over to all TV sports coverage. There's a fine line between being able to see as many games as possible (the whole tournament vs. just the final) and oversaturation of the product so that every game starts to look the same? It's a problem for college football and college basketball especially, where there are dozens of games on every night.

The 12-year-olds themselves are so over-hyped as "playing for the love of the game" that after awhile the phrase doesn't mean anything. The prize that is out there – a trip to Williamsport, a chance to play on ESPN and ABC, the chance to move further along in the tournament – is so great that it's hard to imagine 12-year-olds (and their parents, by the way) are equipped to deal properly with falling short.

On the other hand, the only thing worse might be winning it all. How do you go from that level of success, of national achievement, of endless autograph requests, and then have to start school a week later? Or play baseball again in games that are back to being a few parents in attendance?

Or put simply, is it good to have the best experience of your life come when you're 12 years old? Is it good to know that you're not going to match that two-month run to the Little League World Series that you had when you were 12?

Cody Webster went from being a national hero to being a pretty good high school player to having a short career at Eastern Washington University. To be the best at age 12 does not in anyway guarantee that you're going to be the best in high school, let alone college.

TigerBlog Jr. is a 12-year-old, one who never got into baseball. As an aside, TBJ spent some of his summer playing in lacrosse tournaments with and against hundreds and hundreds of kids who would have been playing Little League baseball had this been 10 years ago or so, but that's another story.

TB has told TBJ that if he wants to be the best lacrosse player he can be (and best saxophone/bassoon player he can be) that he's going to have to devote himself to it. He's going to have to put in a lot of time practicing (sports or music) to make himself the best he can be, to see how high a level he can reach in either (whether that is high school, college, whatever).

But TB has also told TBJ that he's too young to do that now. He's getting close to that time, but he's not there yet. For now, TigerBlog tells him, you play for fun, because you like to play the game and you like to play with your teammates. Too much intensity now, at the age, of 12, would probably mean no interest in playing later.

TigerBlog can't help but think of that when he watches the LLWS.

Princeton has 1,000 student-athletes, all of whom found a way to navigate through the difficult waters of youth sports to reach the college level. TigerBlog has always been fascinated by talking to the athletes about how they got their start in their sport.

For some, they played from the time they were five. For others, they didn't come to the sport they'd play in college until they were freshmen or sophomores in high school. TB remembers Jim Salters, an undersized but outstanding linebacker, whose mother wouldn't let him play tackle football until he talked her into it when he got to high school. Maybe if he'd played Pop Warner from the time he was six, he wouldn't have wanted to play anymore by high school.

Here at TigerBlog HQ, we see the ones who made it through to play in college. The ones here are athletes with the skill to play in college, something only a very, very, very small handful have. Most of the kids you see in the LLWS this week will not have that skill six years from now. In that case, maybe it's good that they have this experience now.

On the other hand, if it's too much now, maybe having the skill later won't matter. It's a difficult balance. And who's to say what's right?

Still, TigerBlog can't help but lean towards the line of thinking that 12-year-olds should be in bed at 10 pm, not playing baseball on ESPN.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Destiny, Coming To A Stadium Near You

FatherBlog was so excited to talk about seeing an unassisted triple play in person that he forgot where he was.

"I was at Shea Stadium when it happened," he said.

Shea Stadium. Citi Field. TigerBlog knew what he meant and was simply grateful that he didn't say "Ebbetts Field" or "The Polo Grounds."

The unassisted triple play was turned by the Phillies' Eric Bruntlett to end the game against the Mets Sunday afternoon. It was the 15th unassisted triple play in Major League history and the first in the entire history of the National League that ended a game.

Bruntlett, a career .231 hitter with 11 career home runs in 502 career games, now has his jersey in the Hall of Fame.

And how exactly did he turn his unassisted triple play? The inning started when Bruntlett made an error, and it became first and second with no out when he couldn't reach a ground ball that he had a chance at. Then, the Mets tried a double steal, which moved him closer to the bag, right in the path of the line shot that Jeff Francoeur rocketed up the middle. If all that wasn't enough, he was only playing because Chase Utley, arguably the best second baseman in baseball, got the day off.

In other words, it can often be better to be lucky than good, or in some cases, lucky than smart.

The unassisted triple play started TigerBlog thinking about great Princeton athletic moments that he's seen and how fate could have changed them so easily. We're not talking about people who put in amazing individual performances that led to a win (Zane Kalemba against Colgate in the 2008 ECAC semifinals, for instance). We're talking about situations where an athlete or team ended up with an all-time glorious moment that could have been so different had something completely out of their control changed.

Take the most famous moment in Princeton athletics TigerBlog has seen, the winning basket by Gabe Lewullis in the 1996 NCAA tournament opening round win over defending-champion UCLA. It's a play any Princeton fan has seen a million times, the perfect pass from Steve Goodrich and the layup by Lewullis that put Princeton up 43-41 with three seconds left.

But how many Princeton fans remember what happened six minutes earlier? The game had been 34-34 at one point, but UCLA scored seven straight to go up 41-34 with six minutes left. Princeton then turned it over, and Charles O'Bannon took an over-the-shoulder pass ahead of the field. O'Bannon, though, lost track of how close he was to the basket and ended up blowing the uncontested layup.

"I don't know how he missed it," Princeton's Mitch Henderson said at the time. "The ball just popped right into my hands."

Princeton's next possession ended when now-head coach Sydney Johnson dropped in a long three-pointer, and what would have been a nine-point UCLA lead was instead a four-point game that was soon tied.

Even from there, it might have all been different. Cameron Dollar missed two foul shots after an intentional foul call with just over a minute left; had he made either, UCLA would have been up one (or two, if he'd made both) with the ball. Even after Dollar's misses, UCLA could have taken the lead or gotten the ball back had the refs called traveling on Steve Goodrich (TB has studied the tape, in which the entire UCLA bench can be seen jumping up signaling a walk, and it was close but not a travel) after he rebounded Kris Johnson's miss.

But none of that happened, and Princeton ended up 41-41, with the ball, and the rest is the kind of history that gets replayed hundreds of times on TV every March, when TB's phone rings off the hook with people who start out by saying "I'm doing a story on great NCAA tournament upsets and was hoping to speak with Gabe Lewullis."

How about Princeton's 2006 Ivy football championship? The most famous play from that season - and in the last, oh, 50 years of Princeton football - was when Jeff Terrell took the pitch back from Rob Toresco after Toresco had been stopped by the Penn line three times in the second overtime and ran it into the end zone. Terrell is known now as the guy who made that play and then threw for 445 yards and three TDs the next week to rally Princeton past Yale, known as the guy who led Princeton to the league title and won the Bushnell Cup as Ivy Player of the Year. In other words, known as Princeton football royalty.

But what if the refs had blown the whistle and said Toresco had been stopped? Then what. No TD against Penn, which would have surely meant a Penn win (the Quakers scored on their first play of the second OT). Had Penn won, Princeton would have had consecutive Ivy losses, which would have left the Tigers two back of Yale. In that situation, it's probable that Princeton would not have rallied from two touchdowns back in the second half in New Haven. No Ivy title for Princeton would have meant Bushnell Cup for Yale's Mike McLeod and not for Terrell, whose legacy would be radically different. All from one ref's whistle.

Or how about one of the great nights in the history of Princeton women's athletics, the night Princeton defeated Washington 3-1 in women's soccer to advance to the 2004 NCAA Final Four? Lourie-Love Field was jammed that night, with lines from the door all the back to the parking lot long before the game started. Princeton, with that momentum, scored early and then twice in the second half to beat the Huskies. It was by any account an epic night for Princeton athletics.

Yet the only reason the game was in Princeton was because the No. 2 seed Penn State had been upset in Round 2 of the tournament. Had Penn State won out, Princeton would have been at State College in the quarterfinals, not home against Washington (who beat Maryland after Maryland beat Penn State). Obviously, winning that game would have been more difficult, as Princeton would have been on the road against the No. 2 team in the country instead of having the support of the huge home crowd.

Want another one? Look at Princeton's six NCAA men's lacrosse championships, four of which have come in overtime. The second one came off a goal on a feed that missed its target and instead went right to a different player, who then scored on his shot. The third came when the refs awarded timeout to Princeton in a situation so unsettled that it actually led to a rule change.

How about the 2001 title, Princeton's sixth? Princeton led Syracuse 9-8 when Mikey Powell scored with 16 seconds left in regulation, giving SU the momentum heading into OT. The Orange had three real chances in overtime before Princeton scored. One of those ended on a great play by Damien Davis. One ended when Syracuse missed the MVP of the previous year's championship game wide open in front of the net. The third ended when Ryan Mollett forced a turnover against Powell on a play where a loose-ball push could easily have been called (it wouldn't have been the right call, as replay showed, but it would have been an understandable call given the circumstances, as Powell slipped on wet grass just before Mollett got there).

Instead of Princeton possession, which led to B.J. Prager's winning goal, it would have been Syracuse ball, settled six-on-six, with little over a minute left in the first OT. Had SU held for the last shot and not scored, the Orange did have Chris Cercy, one of the best face-off men in college lacrosse history, for the second OT. In other words, Syracuse would have had a good chance of cashing in, which would have taken away the sixth title, the one that Bill Tierney won with both of his sons (Trevor and Brendan).

TigerBlog has always hated the sports cliche of "controlling your own destiny." TB understands what it's come to mean, but it doesn't change the fact that you can't control your destiny. Your destiny is something that happens to you, regardless. Don't believe it?

Ask Eric Bruntlett. Or Gabe Lewullis.

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.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Carril, Bressler and Conte's

TigerBlog was walking into Conte's last night for a meeting – and pizza, one half plain and half peppers/onions and one half pepperoni and half sausage – when he saw Marvin Bressler, the sociology professor emeritus and, how best to say it?, observer of all things Princeton athletics.

"How are you feeling?" TB asked.

"Did I say anything to insult you?" Bressler said.

About 20 minutes later, TB was sitting by the door on the Witherspoon Street side of the restaurant when none other than Hall-of-Fame basketball coach Pete Carril walked in. He started out with his usual greeting of an elongated "Yo."

TB was there with defensive coordinator Steve Verbit and former Princeton basketball player/coach and current Mercer County College coach Howard Levy, who joined former football assistant coach Steve DiGregorio for a discussion about helping DiGregorio (everyone calls him "Digger") and his son Derek, who is suffering from a rare disease called Ataxia Telangiectasia.

It's an awful disease, one that Digger and his family are planning to aggressively attack. As part of that, the group was discussing ways to promote awareness and raise money to combat the disease as part of what Digger is calling "Derek's Dream."

Beyond the talk of the disease and the fundraiser (set for the spring; more on it to follow), there was also time for laughing and telling stories, talking about former Princeton coaches and athletes. The meeting lasted more than two hours, and when it came time to leave, TB and Digger walked across the room to pay the check.

Carril and Bressler were still there, of course. Who knows how long the two, with a combined age of, oh, 165 or so, sat there, along with their third dinner companion, Woodrow Wilson School professor Hal Feiveson.

After a few goodbyes, TB asked Digger what he thought the percentage of time each of the three at the table had spoken, and he said "about 85% for Marv." It was probably a good guess, though if TB had to sit with someone who did 85% of the talking, Bressler would probably be the one.

Carril and Bressler go back decades (Bressler actually predates Carril at Princeton). They are a classic pair, with years and years of common experiences and memories. In many ways, the discussion at their table was probably an advanced version of the one that at TB's end (minus the talk of the disease), only with 30 or 40 more years of extra material to pick from.

What has always separated Carril and Bressler in TB's mind is just what they were doing last night - speaking. Their ability to speak, publicly and privately, is amazing. Perhaps it is a generational thing, dating back to a time when most communications were done face-to-face.

As time went by, the ability to communicate in so many other ways has grown and grown, obviously. Just as obviously, it is resulting in less and less face-to-face communication, which may mean fewer and fewer Carrils and Bresslers.

TigerBlog can think back to hundreds of things that Carril has said that have been fascinating; he cannot at the same time think of one good conversation he has had with him on the phone. TB has never exchanged an email with Carril. The same is true of Bressler.

Maybe that's why TB holds those two men in such high regard. It's so much easier these days to say "hey, i gotta go" and then follow up with an email or a text or a reference to a twitter page or whatever else is coming down the pike.

With these two, it's always been different. Speaking - just sitting in a pizza place and speaking - seems so easy, and yet more and more it's a vanishing art. Carril and Bressler (and for them to be at Conte's is to have them in their most natural setting, with something so simple as a pizza and beverage) are extraordinary at doing something that seems so ordinary.

It's one more thing this generation could learn from these two before it's too late.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Don't You Forget About ... Greg Grant

TigerBlog was flipping through the channels when he came upon VH1 Classic, one of the better stops any remote can make. The channel, which is guaranteed to take anyone TB's age back to when he or she was young (or younger, at least), happened to be counting down the top 100 songs of the 1980s.

TB started watching at No. 11 and followed it to No. 1 (Livin' On A Prayer, by Bon Jovi, which as an aside ranks in the top 25 of most frequently played songs on TB's i-tunes). It wasn't until going to the VH1 website that TB saw the complete list, and to be honest, songs 51-100 are probably better than 1-50.

When TB first started watching, he assumed the No. 1 choice would either be "Sweet Child O' Mine" by Guns and Roses (No. 7) or "Don't You Forget About Me" by Simple Minds (not listed, unless TigerBlog is completely missing it; if it's not listed, then the entire list immediately gets called into question).

Anyway, TigerBlog began the 1980s as a high school student and ended it as a sportswriter. He remembers two work-related events at the end of the decade very distinctly. First, Trenton Times sports editor Jim Gauger posted a sign in the newsroom that read "New Decade, New Togetherness," and within a week it was defaced.

Second, there was the vote for the top sports story of the decade in Mercer County. In TigerBlog's mind, there were only two possible choices, and of course, neither won. Instead, the fact that Steinert High had won the boys' and girls' state title in soccer in the same year (1988, TB believes) was the choice, which was a nice accomplishment but a choice and subsequent story that still bothers TigerBlog.

No, the only choices were these: Princeton's 50-49 loss to Georgetown in the opening round of the 1989 NCAA men's basketball tournament, which TB considered 1A, and the whole story of Greg Grant, which for TB's money was a clear No. 1 (sort of like "Don't You Forget About Me").

TB was reminded of all of this not only by the VH1 special but also by a story in Sunday's Trenton Times about Greg Grant and an appearance he was making for his book.

Greg Grant stands about 5-6. He played basketball at Trenton High and then spent a little time at Morris Brown College in Atlanta before leaving there and going to work at fish market in Trenton, where then Trenton State College coach Kevin Bannon saw him playing in a local summer league.

Bannon talked him into coming to TSC, where he would play for three years. Along the way, he'd score 2,611 points, or 103 more than Bill Bradley did at Princeton. Grant is the only player to play in Mercer County that you can write that about, by the way.

Actually, comparing Grant's numbers to Bradley's is somewhat fascinating.

Grant averaged 30.7 points per game for his three years, while Bradley averaged 30.1. In fairness, Grant did make 171 three-pointers in his TSC career, while Bradley didn't make any; had there been a three-point shot in the 1960s, Bradley would have added probably 200 points to his total.

Shooting percentage? Grant shot 52.3% for his career, an astonishing number for someone so small who took so many three-pointers. Bradley was a 51.3% shooter for his career, also an extraordinary number considering how he was the focus of every team Princeton played.

Bradley was a better foul shooter at 87.6%, though Grant was a very strong 80.8%. Grant had 248 career rebounds; Bradley had 1,008.

Both players led their teams to the Final Four, in Grant's case, the 1989 NCAA Division III championship game, where the Lions fell to Wisconsin-Whitewater. That game was played in Ohio, the same weekend as the opening round of the men's tournament in Providence where Princeton played Georgetown.

Trenton State games when Grant played there were huge events, as students often waited overnight to get in to the bigger games in Packer Hall.

If his story ended there, it would have been amazing enough. It continued, though, as Grant went on to play in the NBA from 1989-96. TB often wrote about Grant, up through his days with the Sixers and the Knicks. He was, and TB imagines still is as he works with local kids these days, a humble, gracious, appreciative person who seemed to understand the good fortune that had smiled on him and the fact that he was able to take that opportunity and do so much with it through his own hard work.

Don't you forget about me? Don't worry, Greg Grant. Much like TB hears people who saw Bradley talk about him in reverential tones, no one who ever saw Greg Grant play will ever forget about him.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Welcome Back

Back when we were little blogs, TigerBlog and BrotherBlog used to go away to sleepaway camp each summer. It was six years of eight glorious weeks in the Catskills, and TB looks back fondly on his experience there.

One of the memories that TB has is of BrotherBlog's birthday, which just happens to be today. Back in the camp days, BB's birthday always came during the last week, and TigerBlog long ago began to associate BB's birthday with the looming end of summer.

Fast forwarding about 20 years, TigerBlog, during his newspaper life, used to attend the annual athletics welcome back luncheon at Trenton State College (now the College of New Jersey; as an aside, TB isn't sure what people who went to the school when it was TSC say to people who ask where they went to college) around this time of year, an event that TigerBlog likewise knew meant that summer was winding down. Then-TSC president Harold Eickhoff, who was always nice to TB, used to make the same joke at every one of the luncheons: "I predict," Dr. Eickhoff would say, "that all Trenton State teams will go undefeated this year."

These days, there is a different sign that summer is winding down: The parking lot at Jadwin Gym starts to get crowded. And so it has been the last two days, despite oppressively hot temperatures and high humidity, that TB can be sure that summer is nearing its end.

The extra cars, of course, belong to Princeton fall athletes, who have arrived back on campus to reunite, do conditioning tests and then start practicing. The first athletic contests take place two weeks from today, when the women's volleyball team and men's and women's soccer teams all play to start a nine-events-in-three-days kickoff to the athletic year.

The first football game is four weeks from tomorrow, against the Citadel at Princeton Stadium.

TB is always fascinated by the first events of the year. They're like the little town in New Hampshire that votes at midnight in Presidential elections, where one candidate grabs an early 25-18 lead in the national returns.

By the time the year is over, Princeton teams will have played nearly 600 varsity contests across 38 sports with 1,000 athletes. Of the 38 teams, 33 will compete for an Ivy League championship, all against a league filled with rivals who attempt to knock Princeton from the top spot it has occupied in the unofficial all-sports standings for each of the last 23 years.

A year ago at this time, who knew that these would be the biggest storylines of the year:
1) Princeton says goodbye to legendary coaches like Bill Tierney, Glenn Nelson and Curtis Jordan
2) men's lightweight rowing and women's squash win national championships while men's squash finishes as runner-up and women's cross country finishes fifth out of 350 teams
3) Princeton wins 11 Ivy titles
4) the men's squash team loses the national title in a six-hour epic final against Trinity

What will this year's headlines be? Who knows? Which teams will have great years and which will suffer disappointments? What athlete will be the 2009-10 version of women's soccer player Sarah Peteraf, who emerged from three seasons as a complementary player to become the dominant player on an Ivy champion?

There are so many storylines that will be written in 2009-10, some on the field and some off, as athletic departments continue to evolve in uncertain times. Just as we're two weeks away from the start of the athletic events, we're also two weeks away from the launch of, which will be the home of Princeton Athletics' new video initiatives. What impact will that have on our athletes, coaches and fans?

The last intercollegiate athletic event of last academic year was the NCAA track and field championships, which concluded on June 15. Somehow, most of entire summer has sped by, and here it is more than two months later, with a new year about to begin.

Oh, and happy birthday BrotherBlog. And, uh, you can consider this your present.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

You Decide; We Report

TigerBlog isn't 100% sure what is meant by "the public option" or "the single payer system" as it relates to the health care bill, though he has a basic idea. It has something to do with having the government pay for health care expenses, rather than private insurance companies.

TB further believes that very few people actually know what those terms mean, even if they are willing to vehemently protest for or against them.

Then there is a question TB saw in a magazine story about how Americans often focus their attention on all the wrong issues. The question asked: Which disease has killed more Americans, the bird flu or mad cow disease? Think about it. What's your answer?

The answer, which TB actually suspected, is that neither disease has ever killed a single American. Still, think of all the times that you've heard about the bird flu and mad cow as big issues.

TigerBlog is a firm believer that many people (TB included) will hear small pieces of information about a subject from the media and then extrapolate from there as their own pre-existing beliefs dictate. These days, that's gone to whole different extreme, as it's not just that the public is getting the small piece of information but where it's getting it from.

Aside from "Wipeout," the best TV now is to switch back and forth from FoxNews and MSNBC at 9 p.m. and hear Sean Hannity and Rachel Maddow look at the exact same issue and formulate 180 degree opinions. They don't just disagree completely with each other; they also speak as if their opinion cannot possibly be questioned by any logical, thinking person.

The phrase "We Report; You Decide" is a great one, but it's actually reversed. It's more accurate these days to say the public decides what it wants to hear and then seeks out the reporting that will give that point of view.

Go to MSNBC and hear Rachel Maddow rip the protesters at health care rallies with the term "astroturf," which is supposed to mean something like "fake grass roots." Or, go to FoxNews and hear Sean Hannity rip the people ripping the people who are ripping the health care reform. Hear terms like "single payer system" or "public option" and instantly be for them or against them, without any kind of knowledge of what they would actually mean.

Okay, enough soapbox. The point is that this extends to every source of information that is out there now, even

TigerBlog remembers the time that men's basketball player Andre Logan was caught throwing a brick through a window. It was after the 2003 American League Championship Series Game 7, when Aaron Boone's home run beat the Red Sox for the Yankees. Andre, whom TigerBlog liked a lot (as an aside, Andre was from Poly Prep in Brooklyn, and former coach Bill Carmody once described him as "more Poly than Prep" to say he had some toughness to him), was either a Sox fan or Yanks' fan, and he threw the brick through the window to protest the other team's banner on the wall.

Was it the smartest move ever? No. When it came time for TigerBlog HQ to release a statement about the incident, the first thought was to say that Andre was being suspended for a game for "violation of team rules" or something generic like that. TigerBlog strongly disagreed, saying that it would only lead to speculation. The more facts put out, the less speculation there would be. And that's what happened, as the incident became known for the prank that it was, and nothing big was made of it.

Here at TigerBlog HQ, we have to deal with issues like that, or of athletes who are suspended from a team or decide to leave the team, far less frequently than we have to deal with the good stuff. Still, these issues come up. It's important that we be as forthcoming as possible (something not always able to be accomplished), because in this day and age, this is what would happen if we weren't:
1) athlete A does something silly or leaves a team
2) Princeton puts out a story saying athlete A has been suspended for a violation of team rules or has left the team
3) any number of message boards would immediately start to light up about lack of institutional control and how the coach should go and who is he/she recruiting anyway and on and on

Here at TigerBlog HQ, one of the best parts - perhaps the best part - of the way media has evolved is that we now have a much greater ability to "control the message," as they say. No longer do we simply rely on the Trenton Times or Trentonian to take what we say and interpret it.

Instead, we put out the information directly to those who seek it out. That gives us an obligation to be as forthcoming as possible, and that's an obligation we take seriously. At the same time, as TB has often stated, we have become the media.

Sometimes, maybe much of the time, the audience views what we say as "spin" or with a skeptical eye. Still, TB knows that we have never put anything that is untruthful, and we try not to shy away from negative issues when we're forced to comment on them. It's still up to the people who read it to decide what to make of the information we give them, but at least we know the information is coming straight from the source.

It's turned from what it started as, which was a novelty with unknown potential, into our little version of Wikipedia.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

How Rankings Mean Nothing, Unless We're In Them

A year ago, when Princeton had nine of the top 100 incoming freshman in the Inside Lacrosse "Power 100," TigerBlog viewed the list as a shrewd analysis of young talent. This year, when Princeton is not ranked in the Top 10 for recruiting classes by Inside Lacrosse, TigerBlog sees the list for it is, a hit-or-miss look at unknown commodities who won't be able to be judged for two or three years, or maybe even four.

In other words, what you think of any rankings like these depends on where you are in the rankings.

Princeton's freshman class of a year ago produced two All-Americas (G Tyler Fiorito and D Chad Wiedmaier) and a third player, longstick midfielder John Cunningham, who would have been an All-America had it not been for 1) an injury that cost him half the year, 2) the presence of an All-America in front of him and 3) his position, which doesn't lend itself to All-America recognition.

The other six players in the top 100 of the rankings (eight of the nine were ranked in the top 47 of the list) saw limited playing time, either due to injuries of their own or experienced players already ahead of them. Most of those players will get the first real shot at making an impact this season.

As for the current incoming class, it includes three of the top 58 (No. 14, No. 50 and No. 58), yet former coach Bill Tierney was happy with the players coming in as the class was put together. Also, it's impossible to judge this year's class without factoring in Mike Chanenchuk, who deferred last year after suffering a back injury. Chanenchuk, who will be a freshman this fall, was No. 19 on last year's top 100.

For that matter, you have to factor in the mix of incoming players with sophomores who will be looking to make an impact when you consider Princeton's young talent. Then you have to figure out who is back and who graduated and how the team will mix.

Then you have to factor in every other team and all of the same factors they're dealing with before considering the impact that a freshman class will have this year and beyond.

As an aside, TigerBlog read with interest the lists of the Top 50 high school seniors and high school juniors and wonders have many of those will turn out in five or six or even seven years to be dominant players. In many ways, it's like the NFL draft, where everybody looks great on the board, but how many will develop? It's actually tougher to predict for juniors down, because so many factors come into play (Did they peak early? Do they have the mental toughness necessary for Division I?).

Anyway, one of the more interesting parts of the list were the hometowns. IL ranked the top incoming freshmen by positions (goalie, defense, midfield, attack), and TB didn't have to look any further to see how far the game is spreading.

The top 10 goalies included one from Arizona and one from Florida. The top 10 defensemen included one from Ohio and one from Texas. The No. 10 midfielder is from Washington (state, not D.C.); the No. 11 middie is from Colorado. The attack list features two from California and one from Ohio.

John Cornell, TigerBlog HQ emeritus (TB wishes him luck in his new position as Director of Marketing at the College of Coastal Georgia), used to say that everyone who wants to see lacrosse spread isn't going to be wishing they had when the Final Four is UCLA, Texas, Florida State and LSU.

While Division I lacrosse hasn't yet expanded throughout the country, largely due to money and Title IX issues, women's lacrosse has started to progress slowly. Northwestern, a program that didn't exist that long ago, has won five straight NCAA titles.

Into that mix steps Florida, which starts its first Division I season this spring. Florida happened to grab nine of the top 60 spots in the women's rankings.

Again, these rankings are great for conversation, and they do show some interesting ideas about where the game is headed.

As far as predicting future success, TigerBlog feels last year's rankings were much better.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Of SyQuest Cartridges and The SEC Media Policy

When TigerBlog first began to work at Princeton, doing media guides was on the order of 20 or 30 times harder than it became. TB shudders at the memory of tasks that were so time-consuming back then that take literally seconds now.

For starters, there was the method of placing photos into publications. Our photographers back then (all of 15 years ago at most) shot games with something that barely exists anymore, something called "film." Then we here at TigerBlog HQ would have to send this "film" stuff out to an actual photo shop (as opposed to what everyone now thinks of when you say PhotoShop), where more ancient forms of expression known as "negatives" and "contact sheets" led to "prints." Then, these prints were sized using either a ruler or some wheel thing whose exact name TB can't remember, and a percentage of the original photo would be calculated. This percentage would be written on a post-it note and then attached to the actual photo, which was taken to campus printing, where the only scanner on the Princeton campus existed. A guy named Jim would scan them - and TigerBlog HQ would be charged $5 per scan.

These scans would then be put on storage devices that looked like 8-track cartridges (for those who don't know what those are, they were what you listened to music on a long, long time ago; TB's first car, a 1977 Dodge Diplomat, had an 8-track player in it). At the time, these cartridges could store 44 MB of information (which isn't a whole lot); eventually they doubled in capacity to 88 MB. To do a major Princeton guide, TigerBlog would have to spend hours dragging files back and forth so that the scans for a particular section would be on the same cartridge as the text file itself.

Yuck. TB can't believe how much time he wasted doing that, and any number of other tasks related to a publication. For instance, the scans had to be placed directly into a box created on the page, and it took forever to line up the scans correctly. If they were done right, a dimple would appear on the corners; if not, there'd be extra white space between the line and the picture. Today, you can do this simply by placing the picture on the page and then clicking on the "rule" function, which does the rest automatically. As for dragging the files around, today that is all done automatically when the publication is "packaged."

Eventually, the 8-track storage cartridges (they were either called SyQuest or Ehman; TB can't remember) disappeared in favor of Zip disks, which could store more information. Those eventually vanished too, in favor or CDs and ultimately DVDs, or simply connecting to a printer and placing the file directly onto their FTP site.

What does any of this have to do with the Southeastern Conference's new media policy? Plenty.

Basically, the SEC wants to protect the exclusivity of its contracts with ESPN and CBS, which will bring the league and its schools $3 billion over the next 15 years. That's billion, with a b. That's $3 billion more than Princeton's deal with ESPN brings in, by the way, though at least Princeton doesn't pay anything to ESPN. As an aside, this shows the difference between "we're happy for the exposure" and "we're financing athletic departments and other parts of the university with TV money."

Anyway, the SEC came out with a policy that basically sought to prevent anyone who was not ESPN or CBS from showing any part of any game other than the most basic highlight packages. The policy also sought to prevent anyone – fans, that is – from doing likewise with any new forms of technology. Beyond that, the SEC sought to limit how much information in written and photo form, including on social networking sites, could be put out from SEC events.

The response led to the revised policy, after the SEC was pretty much universally criticized and mocked for being over-the-top paranoid. The basic points were:
1) who is going to watch a cell phone version of a game when the game is on ESPN?
2) how are you going to enforce this in the first place?

TigerBlog's response is that the SEC is being smart in protecting its investment. When Princeton and ESPN were going through their agreement (which probably is 1/100th the size of the SEC's), TigerBlog wondered if TV as we know it would even be around in five years, in 10 years.

Think about it. Right now, if you use your cell phone to record video of a game, it's going to be grainy, shaky footage and it won't last very long. Five years from now? Maybe your phone will have an HD camera in it, one that can shoot for hours at a time.

Suppose you want to watch the 2019 Alabama-Tennessee game. Suppose you hate one of the schools, and your choices for watching it are ESPN with its regular announcers or some Tennessee fan who can provide similar quality video with hysterically funny anti-'Bama commentary (or vice versa). How much of the audience would choose the second? And what if you could get that video on whatever device is around then and watch it however you want?

What is the future of ESPN anyway? Is it being able to watch Alabama-Tennessee or anyone of hundreds of games on an ESPN360-type platform?

The big question is enforcement. Will the SEC reach the stage where it is searching bags for cell phones and banning them from the stadium, along with presumably alcohol and guns and the rest?

The SEC isn't being paranoid here. It's being smart and proactive, even if it ultimately can do nothing to fully protect itself in the long run.

The point is that just like SyQuest cartridges and Zip drives and 8-tracks and film and developing costs, eventually current technologies are going to evolve to the next thing. Whether that next thing is TV the way you're always watched it remains to be seen.

Don't believe it? Well, just when doing media guides became easier, they also became obsolete.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Inspiration Points

TigerBlog was talking to BrotherBlog last week when the discussion turned to the current national health care debate. BrotherBlog lives in Seattle, and he and TB are further apart politically than they are geographically (though BB keeps drifting towards the center; by 2050, he should be a moderate like his brother).

"I'm not having this conversation with you," BrotherBlog said.

TigerBlog then mentioned that he was mostly impressed with the hypocrisy of it all, how those who were appalled that town hall meetings were being disrupted were the ones leading the anti-war protests and anti-Bush movement not so long ago, while those who are disrupting the town hall meetings were the ones who were recently playing the "appalled" role.

As BrotherBlog continued to avoid the issue, TB finally asked him this question:

"Who in the government inspires you?"

BB didn't take the bait, and the conversation ended shortly after that. TigerBlog, though, kept considering the question.

Who does inspire you in government? On either side of the aisle?

It is TigerBlog's contention that President Obama was elected not because of his policy ideas or political bent but instead because a huge segment of the country was crying out for someone to inspire them (as an aside, it is TB's belief that Mr. Obama's current difficulties are due to the fact that he's misread his mandate to inspire and is instead viewing it as a call for fairly left-of-center governing).

It's not just politics. Look around every segment of society. Who inspires you? Bernie Madoff? Some movie star? Michael Vick? Forget Vick, how about David Ortiz? TB really wanted to believe in a larger-than-life clutch athlete (one who tormented the Yankees on top of that), and then he turns up on some murky "list" that calls his accomplishments into question.

TigerBlog has always always found greatness to be inspirational, and TB has always looked at two people as the greatest of the great. In athletics, it was Michael Jordan. In music, it was Bruce Springsteen. TB has great admiration for how hard they practiced to make their performances as close to perfect as possible, and TB has always thought they looked like they were having for lack of a better way of putting it great fun doing what they were doing.

TB has never met either man, but if he did, he would not tell Jordan how he appreciated his greatness even as he was destroying TB's favorite team (the Knicks) or would not tell Springsteen about how he's listened to "Born to Run" or "Thunder Road" or any number of other songs a millions times each and has never tired of them.

Instead, TB would simply say "thanks." That would sum it up. Thanks for being such inspiring forces over such a long time.

TB was still contemplating the concept of inspiration when he stumbled over two articles over the weekend. The first was about a woman named Elissa Montanti, who with no training and no "dog in the fight" suddenly began to devote her life to helping children who were innocent victims of wars come to the United States and get proper medical treatment.

The second was about a man from a local man whom TB had never heard of until yesterday, Ed Bettino. A veteran of World War II, Bettino lost both of his legs while fighting in Italy and then spent more than a year in a German POW camp. Upon release, he had to his legs "re-amputated" because they weren't done right the first time. He went on to life a very ordinary life in Mercer County, and he is now retired and living in Ewing. He downplayed losing his limbs and the sacrifices he made, and his friends and family mentioned that he never spoke about experiences.

Perhaps the answer isn't to look for inspiration in grand terms from elected leaders and such when there's so much inspiration around all the time. At Princeton, there are inspiring people everywhere, from coaches who aren't afraid to aim for the top to people who work so hard every day behind the scenes to enable those who represent Princeton to have the best chance of competing and the best experience possible.

And then there are the athletes themselves. TB often finds himself wondering if Princeton athletes realize how unique they are, and he has said this anytime he's asked to speak to recruits.

"Do you understand how lucky you are?" he asks. "There are millions of high school kids out there, and only a tiny handful have the academic ability to get into Princeton and only a tiny handful have the athletic skill to play a Division I sport. Even fewer have both. Understand how blessed you are, and please don't waste this opportunity."

Fortunately, few of them do. When it comes time to talk about candidates for the Art Lane Award, given by the athletic department to honor excellence in sport and society by a Princeton undergrad, TigerBlog is amazed at what these people do on a daily basis.

Even those who aren't nominated for awards are able to compete athletically and academically at an extraordinary level. How could they not inspire those who watch them?

Maybe that's part of why such a high percentage of the fans at Princeton events are families with young kids. Yes, the events are affordable, but maybe it's also because parents are saying to their kids "be like these people. Commit yourself to achieving and being good citizens at the same time."

Lack of inspiration? Not here at TigerBlog HQ. We've got plenty of it.

You just need to know where to look.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Keeping Up With ... Bones

We're about four months away from the heart of "Holiday Card" season. It's an especially important time for your average parent, who tries to find the perfect picture of the kids to put with the perfect little holiday quip to send out to 50 or 100 friends and relatives.

As August rolls along, there is already a pretty good one of TigerBlog Jr. and Little Miss TigerBlog on the beach in the queue, though memories of last year's fall shot of the two of them on the "Magic 8" statue outside of Nassau Hall still leaves room for a late entry this time around.

About 75% of the cards that TigerBlog receives are of vacation shots or somewhat informal posed shots through the year. The rest are a little more obviously posed, but they aren't exactly over the top or anything.

Then there's the card that men's track and field coach Fred Samara brought in last winter to share. It was sent by his old Olympic decathlon teammate Bruce Jenner, and it showed Jenner and his family, which, as pretty much anyone with a TV or a computer knows, includes the Kardashians.

TigerBlog couldn't help but laugh at the card and the sheer amount of time and money that went into producing it. The family was dressed formally, and TB could just imagine the agony and fighting that must have gone on leading up to this shot. This wasn't quite the Barone family holiday card, which made for one of the funnier episodes of "Everybody Loves Raymond."

If there is any one name that is synonymous with where American culture is these days, it's "Kardashian." The name first became famous when the father was part of O.J. Simpson's team of lawyers during his murder trial, and now not a day passes without some member of the family on TV or in a magazine or on the Web, embracing fame and celebrity with no actual discernible talent to go along with it.

TB stumbled on the reality show "Keeping Up With the Kardashians" once and couldn't stay more than a minute or two. The concept of a show like that (and the "Jon and Kate" fiasco and all the rest of them) speaks to all kinds of issues. First, we live in a country now where celebrity, any kind of celebrity, is embraced. It doesn't matter what you have to do to achieve it; as long as you have it, all is well. Second, who in the world would want to be the subject of a reality show and have cameras trail their every move? Eventually, you have to become unable to have any kind of informality to your world, as everything you say is being recorded. Lastly, if you do have a camera on you at all times, how can you not help but think: "wow, I must be fascinating, or else why would all these people be watching this?" It makes issues of out-of-control ego and narcissism seem somewhat understandable.

So there was one of the Kardashian women (Kourtney) on the Today Show yesterday, ostensibly to promote her own spin-off reality show and to let slip the news that she and her on-again-off-again boyfriend were going to be parents. Imagine the ratings for that show?

Of course, some moments can't be predetermined and scripted, and so there was the great contrast in another guest from yesterday, Time Magazine's Sean Gregory, talking about an article he'd written about haggling in retail stores during a down economy. For those Princeton basketball fans who know him better, he was a member of the Class of 1998, a lefthanded shooter off the bench for a class that won the Ivy title each of its last three years, including the famous 27-2 season of 1997-98.

He was known as "Bones" back then, the nickname hung on him by former coach Pete Carril as an abbreviation for "Skin and Bones," which is what he was back then. TigerBlog remembers well when Jason Osier left the men's basketball team during the 1995-96 season (something Osier later acknowledged he regretted) to focus on lacrosse (Osier did return the following year to playing both and actually played a lacrosse game and a basketball game on the same day his senior year).

Carril was asked by Trenton Times reporter Mark Eckel to comment on it, and Carril said; "We may split his minutes up among some guys, or we may just use Bones." Eckel followed this by asking "What's Bones?"

This Bones would write a huge piece for the Princeton media guide (if there'd been blogs in 1997, it would have been a blog) about the basketball team's trip to Spain from the summer before. It was well-written and funny, a highly professional piece that was a precursor to his current career.

Bones has gone on to write about all kinds of very, very, very high-profile athletes for Time, and he's done great video pieces online with people like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Oscar De La Hoya and others.

During it all, he's remained the same quiet, level-headed, warm person he's been since TigerBlog first met him. He will always be one of TB's all-time favorite Princeton athletes.

And there he was yesterday, sharing the stage with Kourtney Kardashian. At the end, Al Roker jokingly asked Bones how much he wanted for the sport jacket he was wearing.

"This one?" Bones laughed. "It's not worth much."

Kourtney's hair cut probably cost more than Bones' whole wardrobe, but that's okay. TigerBlog's hope is that somewhere amidst the entire obsession with celebrity, there's at least a little room for some appreciation of substance.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Bargain Shopping

Ross Ohlendorf pitched into the seventh inning against NL-Wild Card contender Colorado Tuesday night to earn his 10th win of the year. His record is now 10-8, a winning percentage of .556, for a Pittsburgh Pirates team that is 46-67, a .407 winning percentage.

If you factor out his decisions, the Pirates drop to 36-59, a .379 winning percentage.

Ohlendorf's numbers are actually improving as the season goes on. Prior to the All-Star break, he was 7-7 with a 4.64 ERA; since then he is 3-1 with a 3.07.

In his last six starts, he has three wins while leaving another game with the lead, only to have the bullpen give it away. He has not allowed more than three runs in any of those three starts.

He is now one of 38 pitchers in Major League Baseball (21 in the National League, 17 in the American League) who is in double figures in victories, and he is only four wins away from being tied for the Major League lead. Considering there are 30 teams with five starters each, he's doing pretty well, especially considering this is his first full season as a starter.

Beyond that, he is pitching for the woeful Pirates, who rank 26th in Major League Baseball in runs scored, nearly 200 runs behind the No. 1 Yankees (TigerBlog's least favorite team, in the interest of full disclosure).

Of the 38 pitchers with at least 10 wins, a total of 11 pitch for teams with losing records. Of those 11, only four pitch for teams at least 10 games below .500: Ohlendorf, Dan Haren of Arizona, Bronson Arroyo of Cinncinati and Zach Greinke of Kansas City.

TigerBlog has argued in the past that the Yankees made a mistake when they gave up on Ohlendorf a year ago, trading him to the Pirates for reliever Damaso Marte and outfielder Xavier Nady, two players who have not contributed to the Yankees this year and are currently out for the season.

If the Yankees had moved Ohlendorf into their rotation, they could have kept Joba Chamberlain in the bullpen.

Ohlendorf is tied with high-priced Yankee free agent A.J. Burnett with 10 wins, and he is only two wins behind the other big dollar free agent the Yanks signed last off-season, C.C. Sabathia.

Want to compare their 2009 salaries? Okay:

Burnett - $16,000,000
Sabathia - $15,285,714
Ohlendorf - $413,500.

Now, you can say that Ohlendorf pitches with no pressure on him because he's on the Pirates, as opposed to the spotlight that would be shining on him if he pitched in the rotation in the new Yankee Stadium. On the other hand, you can say that there's more pressure pitching for the Pirates, since he's a young pitcher trying to establish himself as a legitimate Major Leaguer knowing that any mistake he makes is unlikely to be erased by back-to-back home runs in the bottom of the inning or by a lineup with all-stars at every position.

Either way, Ohlendorf is proving to among the best bargains in baseball this season. And TigerBlog again is saying that the fact that Yankees gave up on Ohlendorf is going to come back to haunt them this October in a seventh or eighth inning that Chamberlain isn't pitching.

Or maybe it's just wishful thinking.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Six Months Without Lorin Maurer

It was six months ago today that Lorin Maurer, along with 48 others on her plane and one more on the ground, lost their lives when Continental Connection Flight 3407 crashed while attempting to land at Buffalo.

Lorin was the Athletics Friends Manager here at Princeton. She died shortly after her 30th birthday, on her way to meet her boyfriend Kevin and attend his brother's wedding. By all accounts, it wouldn't have been much longer before Lorin and Kevin were planning their own wedding.

TigerBlog worked with Lorin for three years and knew her as the warm, energetic, vivacious person that so many others confirmed at the time of her death.

Since the accident, TigerBlog has read extensively about the investigation into the crash. It's hard not to blame the pilots and come away thinking how avoidable all this was, though TB also realizes that the pilots themselves paid a huge price as well and clearly didn't intend for any of this to happen.

The families of the victims of the flight have been very active in trying to address areas of safety for airline passengers, especially those flying on smaller regional carriers. The families have taken their cause to Congress on many occasions, and Lorin's father Scott has been a leader in this effort.

To mark the sixth months since her death, Director of Athletics Gary Walters sent an email to the department, asking to make this a "Lo-Mo Day." Jon Kurian had this to offer after talking about attending a Jimmy Buffet concert with Lorin:
"Next summer I will be back in Camden for the show and I’m sure I will think of her again, and when I do I will smile and laugh, because that’s what happens when you’re near Lorin, you just have a good time. We all missed her smiling face this year. I will always remember her, sail on Lorin, sail on… -Jon"

As for TigerBlog, his memories of Lorin will always be of her smile as well. She was always smiling. She was a person whose smile could speak for her when she was just walking by your door and didn't have anything to say. Most of the people who walk by here at TigerBlog HQ just keep going. Lorin would always stop and smile and then move on. It was TB's first thought of her when he sat down to write about her on the day she died:

"The last time TigerBlog ever saw her summed her up perfectly. Nothing to say? Flash a smile, and let that speak for you: 'Hello; hope you're doing okay; I'll see you another time.'"

There have been times in the last six months when TB has for a split-second thought he heard her voice coming down the hall or started to contact her about something and then caught himself, realizing that she's gone. The recently completed Unified Appeal piece was a project in which TB and Lorin used to work closely; the project this time served as another reminder that she's not here anymore.

TigerBlog picked up the newspaper this morning and saw that a local baseball player, 18 year old David Bachner of West Windsor-Plainsboro North High School, had passed away from apparently natural causes. A pitcher, he had been the Player of the Year in both the Trenton Times and the Trentonian. He had been headed to Seton Hall to pitch next year.

TB never met the kid and only remembered reading about him somewhat casually. As was the case when TB first heard about Lorin, his thoughts turned to the family. How in the world can they ever comprehend something like this? How do you deal?

When Lorin died, television crews descended on Jadwin Gym hoping to talk to people who knew her. TigerBlog talked about how tragic it was that someone so young, with so much ahead of her, was gone, just like that. Then he mentioned that the accident itself was 50 times more tragic, as each of the people who died had their own story to tell, their own people who would miss them.

Multiply that by every tragedy that comes along. Nine people die when a plane collides with a helicopter over the Hudson River. Soldiers are killed thousands of miles from home. The Swine Flu. On and on it goes.

Eventually, you become immune to it. They're just stories on the news. One tragedy. Then another tragedy. Another one on the way soon enough.

Only these are not nameless, faceless people. They're people like Lorin Maurer, a smart, funny, ambitious, loving, happy woman who was cheated out of so much through no fault of her own.

TigerBlog still has her cell phone number in his contacts and has random emails from her that he hasn't deleted. Six months later, her family struggles to make sense of it all, works hard to try to prevent others from going through what they've gone through.

Six months later, and everyone here in the Department of Athletics can still see her face, see her smile, hear her voice, hear her laugh. Life moves on without Lorin Maurer, but it doesn't temper how much she touched people in her short time here.

She'd want us all to remember the good times, to have as much fun as we can, to never take for granted those who are important to us.

Six months later, and TB is back to what he wrote when it first happened. Lorin is gone - and it's beyond sad.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Poll Position

Princeton was picked to finish fifth in the Ivy League media preseason poll today. You have to go back quite some time since a team picked fifth ended up winning the Ivy League title.

All the way to 2006.

That year, Yale earned a share of the Ivy title after being picked fifth in the poll. Of course, the Bulldogs shared that title with Princeton, which made an even further move from sixth to first.

The Ivy League preseason poll has always been one of the focal points of Ivy League Media Day. It gives reporters something to write about, and in modern days, it sparks debate on message boards. Each school provides two media members to vote in the poll, and one national representative votes. TB doesn't know who represents every other school, but he knows the two Princeton voters have more than a decade of experience covering Ivy League football.

So how often is the media poll correct?

Over the last 20 years, 26 teams have won or shared Ivy League titles. Of those 26, only five were picked in the top position. Four were picked second. Prime real estate in the media poll is apparently third; 11 eventual champions came from that spot, including three of the last four. That must be music to Phil Estes' ears; Brown is third in the current poll, and in both 2005 and 2008, the Bears won the Ivy League title from the number three position.

Three teams have won from the No. 4 position, two from the No. 5 and Princeton from No. 6. In the last decade, just as many teams have won from the bottom half of the poll as have won from the top position.

Does this mean the poll is completely invalid? Obviously not. Based on last year's results, returning talent and unanswered questions per team, the poll seems legitimate enough to TB. But there is so much more that decide the annual champion per year.

First of all, the three non-league games matter. Look back at what Princeton did in 2006; the Tigers went into the heart of the Ivy League season having earned comeback wins over Lehigh, Lafayette and Colgate. You can't measure the positive momentum those games gave Princeton that year.

Also, each of the eight Ivy League teams are basically choosing from the same pool of talent. You can see which teams have the most returning seniors or All-Ivy players, but no team is so deep that it can't withstand key injuries. In the SEC or PAC-10, maybe you can get by with a backup quarterback or multiple defensive injuries; in the Ivy League, it's far tougher.

In many ways, this is what makes the Ivy League so special. Sure, you have an idea of who will probably be good, but by late October, at least one or two teams you weren't expecting are still in the race. That team made a big play or two at the end of a game and feels a little better about itself than others do. That team becomes very dangerous in November.

TB thinks that could be the way it is for Princeton in 2009, but we'll save that for another day.

Monday, August 10, 2009

With All Due Respect

TigerBlog covered a few Rutgers women's basketball games back in his newspaper days, and he remembers how the rules for postgame access to the women's lockerroom were adjusted from the policies regarding the Rutgers men. TB also remembers a general thought process of: "This is proper."

Through the years, TB has been in enough lockerrooms after enough games to know that few places on Earth smell worse. He has also been in this profession long enough to see how the evolution of women in the field has progressed.

It was with that background that TB read Susan Reimer's column in the Baltimore Sun about how little has changed for female sportswriters in the last 30 years. With all due respect, TB disagrees with much of what Reimer says.

Reimer's basic premise is that the Erin Andrews situation (being videotaped in her hotel room) shows that "give a woman a notebook or a microphone and ask her report on sports and it becomes a gross-out contest for the numskull players and their overgrown frat-boys fans."

Reimer details harassment to which she was subjected, largely by former Orioles' manager Earl Weaver, back when she first started covering the team. She talks about having to hide in her apartment for three days after some of Weaver's comments. It's horrible that she had to endure this.

And, in 2009, it's impossible that anyone else would have to endure the same without there being major, major consequences. If the current manager of the Orioles (TigerBlog has no idea who the O's manager is) said those things today to a female reporter, he'd be fired before the first pitch of the next game. Don't believe TB? Ask Don Imus what can happen if you say the wrong thing.

Some of the most respected sportswriters in the country today are women. Do athletes still make it uncomfortable for women in lockerrooms? Of course, but not nearly as much as they did back in the day. TigerBlog, in his first professional lockerroom experience, saw a high-profile professional football player follow a female reporter around while wearing nothing but a towel. Every time she stopped to talk to a different player, he'd sit down next to her and open his towel. Want to try that today? Think the rest of the room would just laugh and there'd be no repercussions? Wrong.

Lockerrooms, as TB said, are awful places to start with. Throw in the fact that your average professional athlete looks upon your average sportswriter with equal parts scorn, annoyance, condescension and anything else negative, and the situation at its best is bad for men and women writers. Harvey Yavener likes to talk about his days talking to Major League Baseball players after games decades ago and how there was a mutual respect. Today? That's evaporated in an environment where most writers are trying to get to the bottom of something and most athletes make millions and millions of dollars.

Now, what does this have to do with Erin Andrews - or Princeton, for that matter? Let's start with Andrews. If someone videotaped her in her hotel room without her knowledge, it's more than just an infringement on her privacy; it's actual criminal. TB admires the way Andrews reacted, with a desire for justice more than simply being hurt by it.

At the same time, she wasn't videotaped because she was a sports reporter. It was because she was a famous attractive woman. It wouldn't have mattered if she was a reporter, an actress, a politician. The fact also remains that her looks have opened up opportunities to her as a sideline reporter that other women haven't had, regardless of how skilled a sideline reporter she is.

If Reimer wants to make the case that female TV reporters are judged more on their looks than anything else, then she would have had a point. To say that women sportswriters are still subjected to the same nonsense that courageous pioneers like she was simply because they're women is in TB's mind incorrect. The whole sports journalism field has gotten out-of-control, for men and women.

Here at Princeton, there have been many women reporters who have covered events here without incident. We've had female beat reporters, female writers from nearby outlets who have been here for games or feature stories and female writers from major national publications who have come here to write about Princeton athletes. These women owe sportswriters like Reimer a great deal for taking the heat early on so that the profession could open its doors to greater numbers of women. Certainly TigerBlog can attest to the fact that quality sportswriting is not limited to men and can give many examples of women writers who are far better than their male counterparts.

The policy here at TigerBlog HQ is that all of our lockerrooms are closed to the media. Members of the media can request players to speak with after games, and those players are brought either to a media room or an area where media member can ask questions.

This has worked perfectly here, and TB cannot remember a single problem regarding access in more than 20 years.

Granted, professional leagues have rules about access to the lockerroom and specific times when media members are permitted in. These rules do not apply to colleges.

Erin Andrews was a member of the University of Florida dance team as an undergrad, and she immediately went to work for a major outlet (Fox Sports) as on on-camera person after graduation. Within four years, she had risen to the top of her profession, and she is now one of the most recognized names and faces in TV sports.

Did her looks help her? Of course. But that's not an issue related to women in journalism and whether or not they have advanced in the last 30 years. There's no question they have.

This is a larger issue about women and the value that society puts on their looks from the time they're little girls. This is about imagery and mass media and the messages that are sent to little girls about what's important.

Fortunately, there are people like Susan Reimer, a woman who has helped counteract this with her 30-year body of work, rather than just her body.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Reporting Rapidly

Pete the Greek was a fixture at basically every Mercer County sporting event back in the ’80s and ’90s. Certainly TigerBlog saw him everywhere he went, including Jadwin Gym and Palmer Stadium, and it was impossible to be in the same room he was in without his letting you know.

From his familiar spot in his wheelchair, he'd reach up and grab you by the arm, pulling you toward him to tell you his latest funny story, of which he had an endless supply. Even all these years later, the mere thought of Pete the Greek makes TB smile; to talk to anyone who knew him then is to elicit instant laughter.

And yet, TigerBlog never really knew much about him, other than he loved local sports and talking. Never really knew much about him, that is, until the day Harvey Yavener wrote about a 50-inch story on the man everyone just knew as Pete the Greek. Yav told the Greek's whole story in an epic piece that TigerBlog ranks as the best writing Yav has ever done.

Gary Smith wrote perhaps two of the best sportswriting stories TigerBlog has ever read, his Sports Illustrated pieces on Tennessee women's basketball coach Pat Summit and former Eagles' coach Buddy Ryan. Each story was around 7,000 words.

TigerBlog, for his part, has written numerous features that ran past 2,500 or 3,000 words; he considers some of them his best efforts.

For that matter, the best book TB ever read was "A Prayer For Owen Meany," which went past 500 pages and took what seemed like a half-hour to read.

In other words, TigerBlog doesn't mind investing some time into reading something that is good, thought-provoking, informative, well-written and worthwhile.

But is TB alone in this thinking in the year 2009?

If you read, you might think TB is in the minority. The site itself is an excellent one, with easy-to-find scores, pretty good writing and a minimum of self-exultation. Recently, though, added something it calls "Rapid Reports" at the top of its pages.

As TB is writing this, the three items under "Rapid Reports" are these:
9:40 ET Ravens QBs Joe Flacco, Troy Smith and John Beck are looking sharp throwing 20-yard touchdown passes against an imaginary defense.
9:36 ET Browns WR Braylon Edwards, who led the NFL in drops a year ago, continues to snag everything thrown his way.
9:25 ET Rain has hit Vikings training camp in Mankato...morning practice begins at 9 a.m. determination has been made - yet - as to whether they will be indoors or outdoors.

TB's first response to this is "who could possibly care?" Yes, NFL football is the most popular sporting entity in this country, and yes, TigerBlog will do everything he can to watch all 16 Giants games this season.

Still, three NFL quarterbacks are looking sharp throwing against an imaginary defense from 20 yards away? Braylon Edwards can't drop anything in August drills? We're breathlessly awaiting whether the Vikings are going to go inside or not (as an aside, TB remembers watching the Vikings play outdoor games in December and January at the old Metropolitan Stadium; a little rain is going to slow down the Purple People Eaters?).

Next up is the issue that TB read about yesterday, that several NFL teams are trying to ban tweeting and other social networking from their training camps and practices. The concern is that reports of injuries, personnel decisions and strategies will be leaked for anyone to see. Don't the "Rapid Reports" play into that? And what does all of it say about the paranoia that runs rampant?

Getting past all of those questions for now, the real issue for TB is this: What do people in 2009 want to read? Do they want to read huge stories, or are they in too much of a hurry for that? Is it simply who won and what was the score and then move on to the next thing? Does the need for immediate information extend beyond being able to click on the video of the great play mentioned in the story and go all the way to knowing that three NFL quarterbacks can throw a ball 20 yards with nobody defending?

Certainly the rise of the phrase "social networking" seems to suggest that's the case. How many times have you heard someone in sports, politics, entertainment or even your own work place say "social networking" in the last few months? A few years ago - make that even a year ago - the words "social networking" would probably have had you thinking about how to get invited to better parties, not about getting faster information.

So is this where the collective attention span is right now? Do Princeton fans simply want: "Jordan Culbreath looks great in short-yardage drill?" Do they want to learn all about how Jordan Culbreath came out of nowhere to become one of the great Princeton backs of the last 20 years? Do they want both?

Or is it just easier to read (and for that matter, write) a 15-word sentence than a 2,000-word feature? Maybe it's just laziness?

TigerBlog can see the format for distributing information constantly evolve as the traditional newspaper continues to vanish. TB can't imagine that the desire for the in-depth content will simply disappear. At least he hopes not.

After all, TB has some good feature ideas in mind for next lacrosse season.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The New Guy

The Department of Athletics had a reception last night to honor former coaches Bill Tierney (men's lacrosse) and Kathy Sell (women's tennis), who left after this past academic year to go in different directions. Tierney, of course, is the Hall-of-Fame coach who won six NCAA titles and 14 Ivy League titles in 22 years here, while Sell spent five years building the women's tennis program into the 2009 Ivy champion.

During the reception, TigerBlog was talking with several people, one of whom asked if Jon Kurian's wife was expecting. Kurian works in the business office here.

Anyway, it was one of those etiquette moments that TigerBlog doesn't quite know how to handle. Here was Mrs. Kurian, clearly appearing to be a mother-to-be, and yet Mr. Kurian hadn't said anything. You certainly can't walk up and say "so, congratulations," and have it not be the case. Or, as Oscar said (through Will Smith's voice) in the classic "Shark Tale" movie: "'Sorry' is when you step on somebody's fin at the theatre. Yeah, that's 'sorry.' 'Sorry' is when you ask somebody 'Hey, when's the baby due?' and it turns out the person's just fat! No, this is as far away from 'sorry' as you can possibly get."

The whole issue became moot moments later, when Kurian confirmed what was somewhat obvious. The baby is due in the winter. Contrast that with Kellie Staples, the director of the Princeton Varsity Club. Staples was there last night, despite the fact that her baby is due this weekend. And on the other side of the room was Craig Sachson, who works here at TigerBlog HQ, with his wife and daughter Madelyn, who just turned one.

Why bring these three Princeton people up? The whole event started TigerBlog thinking about all of the people who have come and gone during his 15 years here and of the people who have stayed around.

Take Kurian, for instance. When he came to Princeton seven years ago, he was a grad student in need of a 350-hour internship to finish his degree. TB remembers clearly the meeting in which the comment was made that we didn't want to "spend 400 hours figuring out what this kid can do for 350 hours." Or, even more directly, that we weren't looking for a "350 hour pain in the butt."

When Kurian first started working here, there were a host of people in the department with the same first name, though most had the "h" in it: John Thompson, John Mack, John Cornell. Somewhere along the line, Kurian was dubbed "The New Guy," a nickname that stuck for years. Even after his 350 hours were done, Kurian bounced around the department in any number of capacities before landing on the payroll and eventually finding a home in the business office.

Staples came here from Charles River College of Cambridge a few years ago with a boyfriend who still worked at the school. Eventually, he came to work here too, and now they're married with a child due any second.

Sachson worked at the Trenton Times, and TigerBlog had heard good things about him and read good stories by him. When there was an opening here, TB called Sachson and basically offered him the job, despite no direct experience or even interest in the position. That was 11 years ago. Since then, he's worked here, moved to the College in Ithaca not named Ithaca College for two years and come back here for seven more now.

Would TigerBlog have wagered his Yoo-Hoo money that any of those three, let alone all three, would endure here for the long-term?

Even the two featured guests at last night's event have different stories. Tierney came here when Ronald Reagan was still President. Put another way, Sell stayed for five years; Tierney stayed for five Presidents.

Gary Walters started here the same day that TigerBlog did back in 1994. Only seven head coaches remain from before Walters arrived: women's swimming coach Susan Teeter, men's swimming coach Rob Orr, men's track and field coach Fred Samara, women's track and field coach Peter Farrell, men's squash coach Bob Callahan, women's squash coach Gail Ramsay and women's lacrosse coach Chris Sailer. Everybody else has been hired by Walters.

Why do some put down roots here while the overwhelming majority come and go? Some of it is circumstance. Some of it is inertia. There are any number of factors at play here.

TigerBlog was reading what's left of the Trenton Times this morning over his Corn Flakes when he came upon John Nalbone's story from New Jersey Athletic Conference football media day. TB has great memories of his days covering the NJAC of the late ’80s and early ’90s, when Trenton State College (now the College of New Jersey) had some great teams and great players. The coach at TSC then had started out as the head coach at age 23; today Eric Hamilton is still the coach of the Lions. He also is one of TB's all-time favorites, and when TB read his name in Nalbone's story, he chuckled and thought "that guy's still there."

TB has heard the same comment from athletes who come back to games or Reunions and stop in and say hello. "Still here?" they say.

Back on TigerBlog's first day in the newspaper business, back in 1983, Jack McCaffery, who had gotten TB his job at the Trenton Times, warned that TB better be careful, because "once you get the black ink in your blood, you never get it out."

TigerBlog thinks back to that comment often here, surrounded by those who have stayed for years in a business that is often transient. We all have our reasons for still being here, but part of it is definitely is that we buy into what goes on here.

In other words, we all have the black ink in our blood, with a little orange mixed with it.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Tempting Fate

Georgetown's Brendan Cannon had just ended Princeton's 2007 men's lacrosse season in excruciating fashion, taking advantage of an unsettled situation to go to the goal and beat the Tigers 31 seconds into overtime in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

About an hour later, TigerBlog sat down to write and came up with this:

"Maybe next time the NCAA offers Princeton Stadium the chance to host the NCAA men's lacrosse quarterfinals, the answer should be a polite 'no.'"

Well, the NCAA offered again, and again Princeton said yes. The 2010 men's lacrosse quarterfinals are coming back to Princeton Stadium, which is a great place for the event. With one problem.

This will be the fourth time that Princeton Stadium will be the host for the quarterfinals. The first three times (1999, 2005, 2007)? Princeton wasn't one of the four teams.

Contrast that with the fact that Princeton has been in the quarterfinals 16 times in the last 20 years, meaning that Princeton is 16 for 17 in years that it has not been the designated host site and 0 for 3 in years that it was.

Cannon and his teammates ended up getting wiped out by Johns Hopkins (the eventual champ) in the 2007 quarterfinals here, while Cornell and Albany played an epic game that ended with a Big Red win in overtime. That game is famous for two moments: Max Siebald's end-to-end run to strip the ball in the OT to start the winning play and Great Dane goalie Brett Queener's snapping of his stick over his leg at the end.

Georgetown lost in overtime here in 2005, falling to Maryland in another classic. The other game that year was Duke-Cornell, which the Blue Devils won fairly easily in a game in which every goal was scored at the same end of the field.

Back in 1999, it was Syracuse over then-No. 1 Loyola and Virginia big over a Delaware team that featured John Grant Jr.

So who will be here next May?

Well, let's start out with the idea that TigerBlog hopes that Princeton will be one of the four this time. Beyond that, this is the southern site, as Stony Brook is the quarterfinal host next year.

That opens the door for ACC teams like Duke or North Carolina or Virginia. Or maybe Hopkins will be here. Or Navy. Probably not Syracuse.

Or maybe it'll be a team that comes out of nowhere and makes its first serious run through the national ranking. Maybe it heads out on the road and scores a big upset in the NCAA's first round, or maybe gets to be the eighth seed and plays at home and can beat an evenly matched foe on its home turf.

Yeah, that's it. TigerBlog can see it now. Princeton vs. North Carolina in one game here next year. And the other?

How about Duke vs. ... Denver.

Let it happen.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Pass The Syrup, Please

Tom McCarthy was still the Princeton radio play-by-play man for basketball when he and TigerBlog met up with two members of the Pawtucket Red Sox for breakfast during a Yale/Brown road trip. It was probably 1999.

TigerBlog mostly just sat there and ate his french toast while McCarthy, who was also the Trenton Thunder general manager at the time, spoke with the two players, both of whom had been in Trenton the previous summer and who were appearing that weekend at a Fan Fest in Pawtucket. The first player, whose name TB cannot remember, was a big kid from Texas who did most of the talking. The other player, who didn't say 10 words the entire time, was David Eckstein.

TigerBlog has followed Eckstein's career pretty closely since then, as he is one of the few Major League baseball players whom TB has ever had pass him syrup in a diner. Eckstein, of course, has gone to play nearly 10 years in the majors by now, and he has a pair of World Series championship rings, won with the Angels and the Cardinals.

Eckstein won't be adding a third ring this season, as he is a member of the last-place San Diego Padres. While in San Diego, though, he is teammates with a pair of Princeton alums, pitcher Chris Young (who has been on the DL most of the season) and outfielder Will Venable.

And there was Eckstein on SportsCenter this morning, scoring the go-ahead run after he tripled and Venable singled to knock him in.

Venable has been on fire of late, going 10 for his last 21 with three home runs and nine RBIs in that stretch. He had three hits last night against Atlanta, and his diving catch in the seventh with two out and two on preserved the 4-2 Padres win. Technically a rookie, Venable played last year for the Padres in September, and he is now heating up after getting off to a slow start while playing sparingly. Venable now has established himself as San Diego's every day rightfielder, and he batted third last night.

And for all of his success as a Major League Baseball player, TigerBlog still contends that he and his teammate Chris Young were both better basketball players, at least on the college level.

Venable was a 1,000-point scorer and a tremendous defensive player as a basketball player at Princeton. He was not a great perimeter shooter, but he could get to the basket on anyone. Fearlessly.

Back on Jan. 5, 2005, Venable was the best player on the Cameron Indoor Stadium court in Princeton's 59-46 loss to a Duke team that had four first-round picks on it. Venable scored 21 points on 8 of 13 shooting with four rebounds, three assists and three steals. He had three times as many points as Shelden Williams, a lottery pick, and the only reason that J.J. Redick (another lottery pick) matched Venable's point total was that Redick was 14 for 14 from the foul line (TigerBlog remembers each call as being a bad one).

The season before ended when Venable went 5 for 6 and had a 16-point, eight-rebound effort in a loss to Texas in the opening round of the 2004 NCAA tournament. The rest of the team was 13 for 45 from the field in that game, but Texas, like Duke, had no one who could check Venable.

Of course, he was also a first-team All-Ivy League baseball player who hit .390 with nine home runs (one of them, hit at Penn, may still be going) as a senior. Still, he was a dominant, dominant basketball player for four years.

Venable wasn't the character that his fellow 1,000-point teammate Judson Wallace was, and he didn't have the big Texas personality of another teammate, Ed Persia. He was somewhat quiet, with a smile that often said more than he did. He was polite and engaging and easy to work with, and he was a ferocious competitor.

Perhaps in some ways, he has a personality similar to Eckstein's. TB doesn't pretend to know Eckstein beyond what he saw from a breakfast 10 years ago, but it's not too much of a stretch to see them at team meals, sitting next to each other, not saying much.

When you put together the list of the greatest Princeton athletes this decade, Will Venable has to be in the Top 10, and probably Top 5. It's good to see him establish himself as a Major League player, all while wondering how he might have done in the NBA.