Thursday, March 27, 2014

First Pitches

TigerBlog is pretty sure that the Major League Baseball season started already.

The Los Angeles Dodgers played two games that counted against the Arizona Diamondbacks in, of all places, Australia.

It wasn't that long ago that Opening Day in Major League Baseball was played in a far more exotic location than Australia, and that place was Cincinnati. Each year, tradition held that the first regular-season baseball game would be played in Cincinnati, though in recent years that went by the wayside in favor of more of a made-for-TV primetime Sunday night event.

TigerBlog tried to figure out how many years in a row the first baseball game of each season was played in Cincinnati, so he went to, of course, Wikipedia. Before he ever got around to figuring out the whole thing about the Reds, he was struck by a picture of Princeton alum Woodrow Wilson as he threw out the first pitch on Opening Day 1916.

In fact, according to the site that knows all, there have been 12 Presidents who have thrown out the first pitch on Opening Day. The first was William Howard Taft - a Yale man - in 1910, something that TigerBlog already knew.

Something that TB didn't know was that Harry Truman threw out first pitches lefthanded and righthanded in 1950. Now that's bi-partisan spirit.

TB always liked Opening Day. Each stadium would be packed, and there would be a promise of a new year for each team. For one day at least, everyone was even. The reality of the long season sets in for Game 2, which has a fraction of the attendance of Game 1 and which begins a very, very long grind.

Tom McCarthy, the former Princeton football and basketball play-by-play man, is now the TV voice of the Philadelphia Phillies. Before his current assignment he spent a few years as the radio voice for the New York Mets.

It's great, glamorous work, but it's also grueling. And that's for an announcer. How about for the players?

The physical aspect of playing football or hockey or even basketball is much greater than baseball, until you factor in the grind of 162 games. Every night, night after night, city after city, from now through October, especially in the heat of the summer.

It can't be easy.

Scott Bradley did it for years and years, as a Major League Baseball player from 1984-92. Since 1998 he has been the Princeton baseball coach, and he has led the Tigers to 10 Gehrig Division championships and six Ivy titles and NCAA appearances.

Unlike Major League Baseball, Ivy League baseball is more of a sprint. The same, by the way, applies to softball.

Ivy baseball and softball teams go through the same formula each year. The season starts not in Cincinnati but instead with a trip or trips to areas with favorable late February/early March weather, always against opponents with a big head start to their seasons.

The results are fairly predictable. If you look at the current Ivy League baseball and softball standings, you'll notice no team in either sport is over .500 right now.

Still, there is a lot going for Ivy baseball and softball.

For starters, Princeton's baseball and softball teams made early-season trips to both Florida and California to play. For another, there are an endless number of opponents out there, so there's always someone new to play.

And then there's the league season itself. Five weekends, doubleheaders back-to-back, either Friday/Saturday or Saturday/Sunday.

It builds to the Ivy League Championship Series for both sports, which matches the winners of the two divisions for the league title and NCAA bid.

TigerBlog is on the record as being vehemently anti-basketball tournament but very pro-lacrosse tournament. He's also a big fan of the ILCS.

Would something like this work in basketball? Probably not, since in baseball and softball each team plays 20 games, four against the other three in the same division and two against the teams in the other division. Still, a basketball championship game between the top two teams? Sure. TB would be okay with that.

The run to the Ivy League Championship Series begins this weekend. Of course, the schools have to compete with another issue each "spring" around here - rain, which is in the forecast. That's another great thing about lacrosse. It gets played in the rain.

Princeton is scheduled to open at home against Harvard and Dartmouth in both sports, with softball tomorrow and Saturday and baseball Saturday and Sunday. It will be the home opener for the baseball team and the first games on Class of 1895 Field for the softball team, who did play two games on Finney/Campbell Fields earlier this month.

The goal for both is to playing on a beautiful May weekend, with the ultimate hope of getting to the NCAA tournament.

First pitches for both are at home this weekend. Weather permitting, of course. 

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