Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Fresh Faces

A fierce thunderstorm rolled through parts of Mercer County yesterday afternoon, and the Jadwin Gym parking lot was one of those parts.

Everywhere TigerBlog looked on his way into the building this morning, he saw remnants of a violent storm. Downed tree limbs were everywhere, with smaller sticks and leaves almost covering the entire path.

Of course, just getting to the parking lot wasn’t that easy, as Faculty Road was closed between Washington and Harrison and a barricade was up on FitzRandolph at Western Way. The storm knocked out power in the general area, including Hopwell, which is the next town.

And where was TB while all this was happening? At a pool that’s about, oh, five or six miles away from Hopewell, with Little Miss TigerBlog and a few of her friends, who went off the high-dive and down the big slides without a cloud in the sky.

In fact, TB couldn’t believe it when he got an emergency notification message from the University about the storm damage, including word that a shelter had been set up.

Late afternoon thunderstorms are pretty common for Central Jersey in mid-August. In fact, the weather forecast each day is basically the same: hazy, hot and humid, temperatures in the high 80s or 90s, 30% chance of a late afternoon thunderstorm.

It’s all part of August’s charm, when the days are all sticky and sizzling and the Princeton campus is extraordinarily quiet.

And yet, the first athletic events for 2010-11 are two weeks from Friday. How wild is that?

Especially considering that no team has started practicing yet.

All of that will change in the next few days, when the landscape here will be dotted not with downed tree limbs but with soccer players, field hockey players, water polo players and volleyball players. Shortly after they report, the football players will come in to start their first preaseason under new coach Bob Surace and his staff.

For TigerBlog, it’s a fascinating time on so many levels.

First, the rest of the world on basically every level (including Pop Warner) has started football practice. NFL exhibition games are obviously in full swing, and college football openers are also only two weeks away (with some pretty big early games, including Boise State-Virginia Tech).

Sports other than football are getting into the act even earlier. Amazingly, the college soccer season actually begins this weekend.

Then there’s the fact that Princeton University in the late summer is a very sleepy place (when 60 mile per hour winds aren’t charging through). There are no more summer camps going on, and the campus is largely deserted.

And yet, within a few days, it will start to awaken around here. The first group of fall athletes will trickle in, and then it won’t be long before all returning students are here. The campus, to those of who have been here all summer, will become a completely different place.

Then there are the athletes themselves. For returning athletes, the new athletic year has all kinds of unknowns. A four-year collegiate playing career can have all kinds of ups and downs, and TB can think of any number of athletes who had tough years follow great ones and great ones follow tough ones.

Still, there is a certain sense of knowing what to expect when you’re returning to a team. The freshmen? That’s another story.

Right now, there are 200 incoming freshmen athletes who are, depending on the team, either a few hours or a few weeks away from coming to this campus. And none of them is quite sure what to expect.

TB remembers when he first went to college, nearly 30 years ago. He packed up all his stuff (including his brand-new electric typewriter and his stereo system with its turntable and big speakers), and off he went.

Looking back at it now, it’s hard to remember if there were nerves (probably) or a realistic expectation of what college would be (probably not).

For the Class of 2014, it’s all laptops and I-phones, but it’s also the same uncertainty of how life is going to change immediately.

In some ways, the last few days before going to college is like the last few days before becoming a parent. You know life is going to change radically, but you can’t really prepare for it.

Think about what it’ll be like for a freshman athlete, thrust into a new team, out of the comfort zone of being an established high school star academically and athletically (and, usually, a star long before high school), with the same core group of friends and support.

Now you find yourself randomly in a room with someone else, randomly on a team with kids from all over the country (or even the world), kids you either hardly know or have never met.

At the same time, these earliest days are going to lay the foundation for relationships that are going to in some cases last a lifetime. It sounds clich├ęd to say it, but TB has seen it over and over. The Princeton athletic experience creates a bond for the people who go through it, and TB knows alums in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s and even older who are still rock solid best friends with the people they met on their first days on campus.

And yet now they all sit in their hometowns, getting ready to pack and move, unaware of what awaits them.

They’re coming to a campus that today is cleaning up from one storm. When they get here, they’ll be bringing another storm with them, a storm of activity and excitement.

There is a 100% chance of this late August storm.

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