Thursday, September 30, 2010

Will And Chris

Did you see the catch Will Venable made last night? Actually, both catches?

Venable, back in centerfield for the Padres last night, took at least a double - and maybe even a home run - away from Alfonso Soriano in the second inning and then absolutely robbed Aramis Ramirez in the fourth, with a runner on base and two outs.

"The first catch was good," Cubs manager Mike Quade said. "The second catch was phenomenal."

The two plays by Venable made Chris Young a winner for the first time since April 6, when he threw six shutout innings and then missed the next five months. He has since returned with three outstanding starts when the Padres have really needed them.

Venable had missed the first two games of the series with a back injury, and the Padres lost both of those games to slip two games behind the Giants in the National League West. He said that he could have used another day off, "but we don't have another day."

Venable had been sizzling at the plate, by the way, before his two days off this week, with a .392 average in September.

San Diego also trails the Braves by a game in the loss column for the NL Wild Card, though there is good news: The Padres finish the season with a game tonight against the Cubs and then three with the Giants.

The Braves play the Phillies at home to end the regular season in a series that 1) means nothing to the Phils and 2) will be the difference between the postseason or the end of the career for Braves manager Bobby Cox.

The Padres, of course, weren't supposed to do much this year, with their low payroll and 75-87 record of a year ago that left them 20 games out of first.

And yet here they are, in the final weekend of the season, desperately trying to get to the playoffs, a spot that seemed all but set when they were 6.5 game up on the Giants a month ago and all but gone when the Pads lost 10 straight at one point.

Because they play out of the spotlight and far from the East Coast, the Padres aren't exactly a high-profile team to most baseball fans. For Princeton fans, there is nothing unknown about San Diego.

Venable and Young, of course, are Princeton grads. More than that, they are known far more for what they accomplished as basketball players at Princeton than as baseball players.

Young played only two seasons of baseball and basketball before he was drafted, originally by the Pirates, which made him ineligible for both sports after he signed a contract. Of course, NCAA rules say an athlete who is a professional in one sport is still eligible in other sports, but Ivy rules say no to that; this rule is now called "the Chris Young rule."

Had Young played four years of basketball, he would have finished his career second all-time at Princeton in scoring and rebounding, first in blocked shots and first or second in assists. It's TigerBlog's contention that he would have been an NBA lottery pick.

Venable was a four-year starter in basketball who didn't play baseball at Princeton until his sophomore year. He finished his career as a 1,000-point scorer, a lockdown defender, a largely unguardable presence and a huge clutch player who was at his best in huge spots, like at Duke or in the NCAA tournament against Texas.

And yet for all of their basketball ability, they both made it to the top in baseball. And, to boot, they are teammates.

Princeton has had 25 players reach the Major Leagues, including the three current ones of Venable, Young and Pittsburgh pitcher Ross Ohlendorf. Those three are the first Princeton Major Leaguers in 25 years, since Bob Tufts played for the Giants and Royals.

And two of them were basketball players (though not teammates, as they never played on the same team)?

TigerBlog can only think of one other Princeton player in his time here who played both sports, and that was Anders Vestergaard. To have two players do so and reach the Major Leagues - on the same team - is ridiculous.

There are hardly two people who you could root for harder than Young and Venable, who as players here were huge fan favorites. As TB often says, Young is the single most beloved athlete at Princeton since he's been observing - and Venable isn't far behind.

They enter the last weekend of the regular season with a chance at the postseason, and they will get there by winning out. It's not an easy task, but it's better than where the Padres though they'd be heading into October.

And it was made a bit easier by the performances Wednesday night of the two Princeton basketball players on the team.


B.McD. said...

And Will's second catch was ... THE PLAY of the day on ESPN's Sports Center!

B.McD. said...

And Will's second catch was ... THE PLAY of the day on ESPN's Sports Center!