Monday, August 23, 2010

Lou Piniella, A TigerBlog Favorite

Way back in the summer of 1983, TigerBlog accompanied Jack McCaffery, then with the Trenton Times, and a few of Jack's friends to a game at Yankee Stadium that Jack had to cover.

Jack's brother Fran worked with TigerBlog in the psychology department at Penn, and it was through Fran that TB met Jack. It was through Jack that TB first got his job at the Trenton Times.

Anyway, Jack went to the cover the game, and TB and Jack's friends sat in the Yankee Stadium stands. After the game ended and Jack had written his story, everyone met up for the ride back.

The media people parked in the same lot as the players, and so as the group waited for Jack McCaffery, they saw the likes of Dave Winfield, Goose Gossage, Ken Griffey (Sr., not Jr.), Willie Randolph, Ron Guidry and others stroll by, get in their cars and head out.

Eventually, Jack made his way to the parking lot, only to find out that his battery was dead. As people (mostly non-players) made their way to the lot, Jack asked if he could get a jump start, and everyone said no.

Until Lou Piniella came out, saw that the hood was up and came over to Jack. No problem, Lou said, and he then brought his Cadillac up next to Jacks' old car, hooked up the cables and got it started again.

Then, he hung around for a little while to make sure the car was good to go.

Since that day 27 years ago, Lou Piniella has of course been one of TigerBlog's favorite people in professional sports, first as he finished his playing career and then as a manager.

Piniella, now 66, announced yesterday that he was retiring immediately as the manager of the Chicago Cubs, rather than waiting for the end of the season. He gave family issues as the reason for his abrupt retirement.

The average baseball fan who has watched Piniella through the years will probably think first of his epic confrontations with umpires that led to his many ejections. Not TB. No, TB thinks back to a rapidly emptying parking lot at Yankee Stadium, all of the people (players and non-players) who could care less about a dead battery and how Lou Piniella couldn't have been nicer.

Of course, the sports world is filled with stories like that. TB is a huge David Justice fan. Why? Because TB once saw Justice - then with the Atlanta Braves - on a plane from Atlanta to Philadelphia, at a time when MotherBlog was in Piedmont Hospital during her fight against cancer.

TB, sitting in first class because MB had upgraded his ticket, was across the aisle and one row behind Justice. When TB mentioned to the guy sitting next to him that MotherBlog was in the hospital and that Justice was her favorite player, he said that TB should go talk to him, because "where could he go?"

Armed with that logic, TB wrote a note about how his mother had cancer, was in Piedmont Hospital and was a big Braves' fan and could he drop her a line or something. Then TB gave him the note to Justice, who nodded his head.

Later that night, TB spoke to MotherBlog, who said that David Justice had called her in the hospital and spoken with her for about 10 minutes. He followed up by sending her some Braves' stuff, including a ball autographed by 17 players and manager Bobby Cox.

Like Piniella, Justice earned a lifetime pass from TigerBlog.

With the coming of the new athletic year, TB is involved in discussions about marketing for Princeton athletics, as always. There are some pretty basic questions that TB always asks (a subject for later in the week, by the way), but one of the main ones is this: What are we selling here at Princeton?

There are 38 varsity teams at Princeton, and 33 of them offer no admission charge for regular season events. Of the five that do charge (football, m/w basketball, men's hockey, men's lacrosse), none of them have outrageous costs.

But what are we selling in general? Is it quality Division I athletics? The games themselves? The chance to watch championship teams? The in-game experience?

What's more important at football, to see Princeton play a big game late in the year or to have every game present a great experience? This isn't a question for the coaches or the athletic department, who obviously want to win games, but for deciding why people come or don't come?

Maybe all these years, we've been missing the boat a bit. Maybe it's the Lou Piniella-David Justice thing that should be our focus.

Come to Princeton games and get to meet the players. They are, after all, our best ambassadors, and what parent out there wouldn't want their impressionable kids to meet up with such great role models?

Yes, they're not Major Leaguers, but that hardly matters. It is still a thrill for the little kids (a huge target audience) to meet the players.

Maybe that's what we should be stressing more than anything else.

TB will certainly put it on the table for discussions this week.

As for Lou Piniella, you'll always been an all-time TigerBlog favorite. So will David Justice.

They both earned it years ago.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the marketing answer is highlighted within your article?

This article reminds me why playing a sport at Princeton cannot compare to joining the sometimes thug like community offered by some of the larger programs. A Princeton athlete's experience will most likely include exposure to leaders who exhibit the decency of behavior shown by Lou Piniella and expectations that the athletes would emulate the same behavior.

There is an attractive and compelling story to tell about the standards of behavior of your athletes, who they are as people and who they will become by choosing a Princeton program over other programs - good people.