Thursday, June 2, 2016

Welcome To Lafayette

By 8 a.m. yesterday, TigerBlog had already seen Princeton assistant baseball coach Greg Van Horn eat two salads.

Not that there's anything wrong with such a healthy choice. But two of them? By 8?

Hey, airports bring out some interesting dynamics early in the morning. It's like an entire world where nobody realizes that most people are barely out of bed.

TigerBlog's Wednesday started early, like before 6 at Jadwin Gym. It was the travel day for Princeton baseball on its way Lafayette, Louisiana, and the NCAA tournament.

The entire Princeton travel party could not be accommodated on one flight, so four people had to go on a different itinerary. Those four were TigerBlog, Seth Dorsey from the business office and assistant coaches Van Horn and Mike Russo.

Everyone else flew from Philadelphia to New Orleans non-stop, leaving after 10. TB and his group left an hour earlier and had to connect to New Orleans through Atlanta.

Still, it wasn't too bad.

For starters, there was the matter of the 38th row.

Both legs of the flight were on MD-90 airplanes, from Delta. TigerBlog sat in seat 38A for both. The two baseball assistants were across the aisle, also in row 38, for both. Seth was in row 37 for the first flight and then row 38 for the second.

The MD-90 has 39 rows. There are two engines, which sit all the way to the back of the airplane. Actually, they're right next to row 38, like right outside the window. In fact, row 39 has no window at all. If you're in row 39, there's no window shade to slide up or down.

TigerBlog had two of them. If he pushed one up, he got to look directly into the engine, so he kept that one down. If he pushed the other one up, he saw about a quarter of the engine, some open space and then about half of the wing.

The other thing about row 38 is that the engines are incredibly loud during the flight. Like deafening, from takeoff to landing.

Other than that, the two flights were smooth as silk. TigerBlog's group got in shortly ahead of the rest of the team, and everyone congregated at the baggage claim.

Lafayette, the site of the regional, is not all that close to New Orleans. In fact, it's more than two hours by bus. It's basically Interstate 10 the whole way, the first half to Baton Rouge, where 10 meets up with 110 and 12, and then straight from Baton Rouge to Lafayette.

When you make the sweeping left turn just before you reach the downtown of the state capital, you can see the Baton Rouge skyline to the right. At that time, though, every head on the bus was pointed to the left though.

Why? Because off to the left was Tiger Stadium, the home of LSU football. It's a gigantic structure that grabs your attention as you see it and how it dominates its surroundings.

And then? It's another hour to Lafayette.

Much of the ride from New Orleans takes place on highway that is surrounded by water, even with waterways in between the east and west lanes. The stretch from Baton Rouge to Lafayette includes the Atchafalaya Basin Bridge, which is about 20 miles long and is the only way to keep I-10 above the water line. The Atchafalaya Basin Bridge is nearly 20 miles long, which makes it the third-longest bridge in the United States and 14th longest in the world. At least according to Wikipedia.

Princeton was greeted by a massive burst of rain upon arriving in Lafayette. By any accounts, it was a long trip to get here.

Of course, it is well worth it.

Princeton takes on Louisiana-Lafayette tomorrow night at 8 Eastern time (on ESPN3) in the second game of the regional, after Sam Houston State plays Arizona. It's a double-elimination event.

For a team that was 7-32 a year ago, the trip to the NCAA tournament is the reward for a remarkable turnaround and then a gritty Ivy League Championship Series win over Yale (not Harvard, as TB said erroneously Tuesday).

And the reward is the opportunity to play in what has to be one of the best and most colorful places in all of college baseball. Everything that TB has read about the Ragin' Cajuns is that they do everything they can to make Tigue Moore Stadium rough on the visiting team - all while making it as much fun as they can.

And, best of all, everyone is welcome to tailgate with them. TB hasn't experienced it yet, but his sense is that it's the kind of crowd that you can't help but like, even as they are being brutal to your team.

It's sort of like a carnival, TigerBlog supposes, though not like a literal carnival, like the one across the street from the stadium.

TB and Dorsey went over to the athletic facilities at Louisiana-Lafayette. They were able to get onto the baseball field (and see the football stadium). The baseball field, even empty, seems to be screaming at a team from out of town.

Yes, this looks like it's going to be worlds of fun.

There's still the matter of today, which is a day for practice and meetings. And dinner.

Last night's dinner consisted of the TB's group of four, plus assistant coach Lloyd Brewer. And Ian Auzenne, a Class of 2010 grad who is a Lafayette native.

Ian was a regular in the Office of Athletic Communications while a Princeton undergrad. Now he works for a local TV station. Ian picked up the check for dinner, too, which was extraordinarily nice.

Work will prevent Ian from being at the game tomorrow, but he'll be there Saturday for the second game. TigerBlog imagines that not too many other Lafayette natives will be cheering on the Tigers this weekend.

Nope. The rest of the local fan base is wildly passionate about the Ragin' Cajuns. It's a big show and a big stage, and Princeton is the decided underdog.

Yesterday was about getting here.

Today is time to start getting serious.

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