Wednesday, November 19, 2014

On Dreams Coming True

TigerBlog Jr. didn't sleep for one minute on his first night home from the hospital. Not one minute. Cried the whole time. All the way until 5 a.m.

TigerBlog, who hardly knew what to do with a baby, had never been so panicked. He had no clue what to do as the hours dragged by, baby crying, no end in sight, no sense of what the problem was.

Years later, one of TB's coworkers (John Cornell is his name), when told that story, said that the reason the new baby was crying was because TigerBlog had put a shortstick in his bassinet when he wanted a goalie stick.

That is not quite true. TigerBlog Jr. didn't have his first lacrosse stick until he was almost an entire year old, not until TigerBlog bought him one of those little, little kids sticks at Princeton's 1998 game at Hobart. TB has a picture of TBJ as he sat on a beach as a baby, clinging to the stick with one hand and holding the ball with the other.

TigerBlog Jr.'s first Princeton attire was a No. 10 Tiger basketball t-shirt, No. 10 at the time having belonged to Brian Earl. The first Princeton game he went to was a football game - again, TB has a picture of that moment.

Lacrosse, though, has always been TigerBlog Jr.'s favorite.

And it was always TigerBlog's dream that his son would grow up to play lacrosse at Princeton. TigerBlog knows now that his dream will not come true - but it's okay. TigerBlog has learned something about dreams, for both parents and children.

TigerBlog has never seen anyone love to do anything as much as his son loves to play lacrosse. He has said this a billion times - he could not have pushed his son into playing the sport if it wasn't something his son wanted. And want it? TBJ loves it. From the first time he ever started to play, he played - and practiced - very, very hard, with a joy and passion that can't help but be noticed. 

TBJ first started to play lacrosse in second grade. By then he already referred to Princeton's then-head coach of men's lacrosse Bill Tierney as "my friend Bill." He'd already been to the NCAA lacrosse Final Four. He'd already traded his little fiddlestick for a real lacrosse stick and had started down the path of his favorite pastime - throwing a ball against the garage door.

When TB registered his son for lacrosse in second grade, he was asked if knew anything about the sport. He mentioned his involvement with Princeton, and he was subsequently asked if he wouldn't mind running the brand-new first/second grade program.

And so he did. He took the 60 boys and organized them into four teams - Princeton, Syracuse, Johns Hopkins and Virginia. For one hour per week, he would split a field into two half-fields and have two of the teams play a mini-game with no goalies while the other two teams did drills. After a half-hour, he'd switch.

At the end of the season, TB's first and second grade brigade challenged the third-graders to a game. This time, though, his team needed a goalie. When he asked for a volunteer, only one hand went up - TBJ's.

Since then, TBJ has been a lacrosse goalie.

And lacrosse has been the biggest bond between father and son.

It was lacrosse that brought them together for hours and hours and hours, driving to Princeton games, to TBJ's games, to camps, to summer tournaments. TigerBlog coached his son for seven springs. He took him to countless Princeton games. He took him to every NCAA championship weekend to help work on the stat crew.

More than just the on-field part of the sport, lacrosse gave father and son a chance to learn about each other, to grow closer together in all aspects of life, to share time and experiences that shaped both of them and that neither will ever forget.

The sport also opened up to TBJ so many great experiences and so many great friendships, with the kids he played with in the spring and then on his summer club team and finally in high school. TigerBlog has picture after picture of these same kids, as they grew from little boys in oversized equipment to serious lacrosse players.

And good ones.

TB figured that of all these kids, if one of them played Division I lacrosse then that would be a lot. What he didn't realize was that his son had stumbled onto one of the most fertile parts of the country for lacrosse players, Southeastern Pennsylvania.

As it turns out, almost all of them are going to play in college. TigerBlog can count more than 30 current or former teammates of TigerBlog Jr.'s who are already playing or are going to play in college.

TigerBlog Jr.? Let him come here to Princeton. Let him play lacrosse. How perfect would that be? A dream come true.

A father's dream come true, anyway. TigerBlog had visions of his son at freshman athlete orientation, at the senior banquet - and every step in between. He wondered what he'd write his senior thesis on. He wondered what it would be like to come to work every day while his son was a student here.

For awhile, TBJ was in on it. He thought it was his birthright to play lacrosse at Princeton. Why wouldn't he? Almost every role model he had was a Princeton athlete, and the ones he knew best were lacrosse players. Why wouldn't he think he'd simply end up here. They all did. How hard could it be?

Last week TigerBlog Jr. signed a National Letter of Intent to play Division I lacrosse at Sacred Heart University, a Northeast Conference school, not an Ivy League school. TigerBlog actually was taken aback as he realized that after the years he's worked in college athletics, this was the first time he'd seen an actual Letter of Intent.

TigerBlog's dream is not coming true. As he said before, it's okay. Hey, there's still Miss TigerBlog, right?

As for TigerBlog Jr., it's his dream that matters. His dream was to play lacrosse in college - Division I lacrosse - and he's achieved that.

The Sacred Heart coach is named Jon Basti, who first coached TBJ at Princeton's summer camp a long, long time ago, back when Tierney let TBJ come even though he was well below the minimum age range for the camp.

TBJ is excited about the next step in his life. TigerBlog? He is too. 

First, he's happy for his son. Second, it's heart-warming to know that his child has worked his whole life towards a singular goal and it has come to be for him.

Now it's on TBJ to shape his college experience and his life beyond that.

No, it won't be as a Princetonian. It'll be as a Pioneer. And that's great.

But he'd never have gotten there without the help of a lot of Princetonians. Former players like Trevor Tierney and Jason Doneger and Ryan Boyle and Jared Keating and Peter Trombino and Tyler Fiorito and Chad Wiedmaier and Tom Schreiber and so many others who were so encouraging to him. Current players like Ryan Ambler and Will Rotatori and Bear Altemus and Jake Froccaro and Austin deButts and Justin Murphy.

And the former assistant coaches. Stephen Brundage, Mike Podgajny, Greg Raymond, Sean Nadelen.

And, more than anyone else, David Metzbower and the two head coaches at Princeton in his lifetime - Tierney and Chris Bates. Tierney, a young boy's hero. Bates, who taught that same boy invaluable lessons about lacrosse and life as he got a little older.

All of them gave him their time and helped him develop as a player and a person, and all of them helped bring him to where he is now.

As for his father? He spent hours shooting on his son in the backyard, first with tennis balls and then actual lacrosse balls. They had contests to see if he could score more than his son could save. They lost balls in poison ivy. They shot balls onto the neighbor's lawn. They knocked balls off the house.

And they did this for hours. For years.

Lacrosse, more than anything else, brought them together.

In the end, it wasn't to be Princeton lacrosse that they would share once he got to college. In the end, TigerBlog realizes, that dream wasn't the big deal.

The journey was.

The journey of a boy to a man, with a father proudly watching, helping, marveling, guiding - and the great sport of lacrosse bringing them together.

TigerBlog? He couldn't be happier.


Anonymous said...

Mazal Tov to you and TBJ. Mollie Marcoux's loss is Bobby Valentine's gain.

Anonymous said...

Ditto on the mazel tov! SHU has a nice campus in a nice, small town. A former PU assistant (or wrestler) is HC of the Pioneer wrestling team. Sydney Johnson is nearby at Fairfield U. Coach Ayres and the team were there last season. Good luck to your son.