Monday, May 9, 2011

Out To The Ballgame

That this was going to become a day of pretty strong historical significance for Princeton Athletics was not foremost on TigerBlog's mind as Digger made the statement that Mariano Rivera might be the most dominant athlete of all time.

That statement came in the late innings of yesterday's decisive Game 3 of the Ivy League baseball championship series between Princeton and Dartmouth, a game the Tigers would win 8-5 with some timely hitting and clutch relief pitching by freshman A.J. Goetz. Princeton won despite three long home runs by Dartmouth, including back-to-back shots in the fifth inning.

TigerBlog watched most of the game from the hill on the leftfield side of Clarke Field, which couldn't have looked more perfect on this sunny and 70 degree Mothers' Day. Princeton, picked to finish last in the Gehrig Division after going 12-30 a year ago, completed its remarkable turnaround season by going 15-5 in the league this year to win the division.

Dartmouth, on the other hand, had won the last two Ivy titles and had swept Princeton during the season in Hanover. Princeton won Game 1 Saturday 9-2 and led by four in the seventh inning of Game 2 before the Big Green rallied to win 5-4, setting up a winner-take-all game yesterday.

The back-to-back home runs made it 5-4 after the Tigers had leads of 2-0, 4-1 and 5-2, but Goetz came out of the pen to get some big outs over his 4 2/3 inning stretch. The key moment of the game came when freshman Jonathan York hit a two-out, two-run single in the bottom of the sixth to push the lead back to 8-4.

When it was over, TigerBlog sent a text message to a co-worker that said "baseball = no. 12." His reply was this: "w track = 13."

A little while later, "m track = 14," and the math added up to an amazing Sunday for Princeton.

Baseball's Ivy League title was the 12th for Princeton this academic year, and it was followed by women's track and field and men's track and field at the Heptagonal championships in New Haven to give Princeton 14 Ivy titles for the academic year 2010-11.

The all-time record for Ivy titles in an academic year is 14, something Princeton has now done three times (1999-2000, 2000-01, this year) and Harvard has done once (2004-05).

Princeton has three chances to break the record this weekend, when the men's lightweight and heavyweight rowing teams and women's open rowing team compete at Eastern Sprints for the final three league championships.

In case you're keeping score, Princeton has won the Ivy League title this year in:
field hockey, men's cross country, women's cross country, men's soccer, men's basketball, women's basketball, women's fencing, men's indoor track and field, women's indoor track and field, men's swimming and diving, women's swimming and diving and the three won yesterday.

The three Ivy titles yesterday don't even include the women's lacrosse team's win in the final of the league's tournament, which earned the Tigers an NCAA tournament spot - but not an Ivy title.

In fact, the first five pictures on this morning were what the OAC people call "jubo," short for "jubilation."

All of that is great, of course. TB got another text yesterday from someone who used to work here and now works elsewhere in Division I - okay, it was John Mack - and he said that he hoped the people here appreciated how special a day like yesterday was and how special a year like this is.

And he's right, of course.

And yet, that's not what TB was thinking about when Digger - former assistant football coach Steve DiGregorio - brought up Mariano Rivera.

No, it was too perfect a day standing out on the hill or sitting on the grass to get bogged down in the historical stuff.

More than anything, yesterday reminded TB why there was a time in his life when baseball was his favorite sport.

TigerBlog has gotten more disillusioned with baseball than any other sport through the years, with all of its issues, most notably the whole way steroids have destroyed the legitimacy of the record book. He's not too thrilled with the way below average players make multi-millions either.

But all of that seemed so far away yesterday.

Watching Princeton and Dartmouth with Digger, Howard Levy, Rick Giles, Jess Deutsch and her husband and an army of others who strolled by, TB came to remember the appeal of the game, the leisurely way it plays out, the time in between to debate situations and what each person would do given the outs and baserunners and score.

And of course there's also the side conversations, like the one about Rivera. TB disagrees, and Howard backed him up, though Digger made some good points. This conversation was wrapped around the game, which is how baseball is supposed to be.

In fact, without missing a single moment in the game, the conversation ran all of the map, including religion, politics, sports and anything else, from whether it would ever be a good idea to try to lay a two-out bunt down with a runner on third if the third baseman is playing way back (TB said yes, Rick Giles said no) to telling stories about former equipment manager Hank Towns to how Digger rowed crew in high school on one of what was then only five high school rowing teams in New Jersey to why photographers standing exactly in the same spot get very different pictures of the same event.

The Princeton students were into it as well, with a large contingent on hand, drawn partly by the lure of $1 hot dogs on Saturday and then the winner-take-all drama of Sunday. The students were loud, but they never crossed the line into profane or unacceptable; their best effort was counting out the number of times that Dartmouth's Sam Bean spun his bat before getting set to hit.

By the ninth, the drama of the game built to the point were Howard mentioned that the players would remember this moment for the rest of their lives, a point that is never lost on TB.

Eventually, the last out of the day settled into the glove of Princeton centerfielder Tom Boggiano, and the celebration began.

TB stood back and took it all in, the "jubo" of the moment, the way the students joined in on the field, Princeton coach Scott Bradley as he spoke about his seniors on the field to a large gathering near home plate.

TB watched it all from the hill, the sea of people on an immaculately maintained field, the end of what was simply a perfect day.

Yes, it was one of great historical importance, and that is not to be underestimated.

But mostly it was just a great day to be outside, in the sunshine, hanging out with some friends - and getting reacquainted with a sport.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Along with the titles -- and the rest of our teams' play -- comes great OAC coverage. Thanks!