Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Pitching With A Heavy Heart

If you're a Princeton Athletics fan and have been for as long as TigerBlog, then you have your all-time favorite athletes.

Of course, your list may vary from someone else's, and that person's could be completely different from the next. That's just how it works in sports.

In TigerBlog's nearly 30 years of watching Princeton teams from the inside, he's put together his own list of favorites. Not that he'd want to share it, because he'd be too afraid of leaving someone out.

There are some athletes who would be common to most lists. TB is pretty sure of that.

He's talking about on all kinds of levels here. As an athlete. As a teammate. By the effort he or she gave night after night. What their personality is.

Pete Carril used to say that it's impossible to separate the player from the person. TigerBlog agrees with the coach here.

That's how he knows that even fans who never had a chance to meet some of their favorites can form a pretty good judgement on what they're like as people. Hey, TB has been able to do that with professional athletes, and he's pretty sure he's done so fairly accurately.

If you asked TigerBlog who the most universally popular, most well-liked Princeton athlete of the last 25 or so years is, he wouldn't have to think about it long to come up with his answer.

Actually, maybe he should think about it for a minute, so he doesn't overlook someone more obvious than the one who pops into his head immediately.

Hmmm. No. There may be someone who is on the same level, but there can't be anyone who, well, stands taller.

The answer is Chris Young.

About the worst thing that any Princeton fan can say about Chris Young is that they didn't get to see him play enough.

Chris Young came to Princeton from Highland Park High School in Dallas back in 1999. He stands 6-10, and he was dominant in basketball and baseball for two years each at Princeton.

Unfortunately for Princeton fans, Young was born on the final week of May. Had he been born after June 1, he wouldn't have been eligible for the Major League Baseball draft after his sophomore year, but instead he was.

Then he was chosen by the Pittsburgh Pirates, and when he signed a pro contract, that ended his Ivy League eligibility in both sports.

Had he not missed out his last two seasons of basketball, he would be the No. 2 scorer in program history, probably over 2,000 points, as well as one of the all-time leaders in rebounds. And he probably would have blocked more shots than the next three players in program history combined.

He played with a combination of grace and power, and at all times with humility. He was the perfect teammate.

And a total crowd favorite.

Had he chosen basketball over baseball, he'd probably still be in the NBA right now. As it is, he's in his 11th season pitching in the Major Leagues, now headed to the postseason with the Kansas City Royals. This is his fifth Major League stop, after also pitching for the Rangers, Padres, Mets and Mariners.

He has a 76-58 career record, with 205 career starts and a 3.65 career ERA.

Now, at the age of 36, he is having an outstanding season for the Royals, who have run away and hid in the American League Central. Young is 11-6 with a 3.15 ERA, and he has made 17 starts and 16 relief appearances.

His most recent start was Sunday against the Indians, when Young threw five no-hit innings. Not just shut-out inning. No-hit innings.

And he did this on the day after his father Charles passed away.

TigerBlog met Charles Young more than once. He remembers having some pretty nice conversations with him back when Chris Young was a Princeton basketball player.

It couldn't have been easy for the son to take the ball Sunday. But he did it anyway.

Perhaps he felt that it was a way to honor his father. TigerBlog doesn't feel comfortable speculating on such a personal issue.

TigerBlog would like to send his condolences to Chris Young and his family.

There have been very few athletes in school history - and certainly since TigerBlog has been watching - who better represented everything that's good about playing a sport at Princeton. That's why so many Princeton fans locked onto Chris Young from Day 1.

He is a class act in every possible way.

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