Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Statting With Zack

In some ways, the person Zack DiGregorio most reminds TigerBlog of is, well, TigerBlog.

No offense, Zack. And no offense to his parents, Steve and Nadia, either.

TigerBlog means it well. Zack is a nice guy. Funny. He has some healthy sarcasm to him. He never really seems like he's taking things too seriously, even when he is.

TigerBlog has known Zack since Day 1 of Zack's life. Steve used to be an assistant football coach at Princeton, and he and TB have stayed very close since Steve left here nearly 20 years ago.

Zack grew up in Princeton, and he was a regular his whole childhood at Jadwin Gym. He was a longtime Princeton ballboy for men's basketball in what his dad would call the "Golden Age of Princeton ballboys," along with Lior Levy, son of former Princeton player and coach Howard Levy, and TigerBlog Jr.

Back in 2014, TigerBlog wrote this about Zack, shortly before he left for college:
As for Zach, he's TigerBlog's favorite kind of kid, or young adult, or adult, or whatever kids his age are. He calls TB by his first name, but not in a disrespectful way. He fits in naturally in a group of people his age, but he can also fit in with the group of parents too, without coming across as a suck-up or phony. He laughs at all the right times. He speaks enough to let you know he's comfortable making his point but not too much that he becomes a pompous know-it-all, like a lot late teenagers do. He has a strong handshake, and he looks adults right in the eyes.

Other than the fact that Zack is no longer a teenager, all that still stands.

These days, Zack is a junior at, of all places, Penn. Again, that's something he and TB have in common.

When Zack was first leaving to be a Penn student, TigerBlog connected him with his colleagues in the Penn athletic communications office, and Zack has been a regular there from the start of his college career. That is, when he's not playing sprint football or writing well-thought columns for the Daily Pennsylvanian on a variety of sports and issues, columns his father forwards to TB.

The Princeton men's lacrosse team played at Penn this past Saturday, and it was a busy day for the Quaker athletic communications staff. Knowing full well that TB would never refuse such a request, Penn asked if TB would help out by doing the stats for the game from Franklin Field. Usually, it's the home team who will keep the stats, but TB said sure, not a problem.

The only issue was that he needed a spotter. And so he enlisted the only Penn student worker he knows.

Zack, being the hard-worker he is, said of course he was in. There was only one small detail - Zack knows next to nothing about lacrosse.

That's okay, TB told him. He just needed someone who could uniform numbers.

And so there they were, the two of them, in the broadcast perch side of Franklin Field, which for lacrosse means opposite the benches. Franklin Field is a tremendous, historic old facility, one in which the Philadelphia Eagles used to play and in which TB used to play intramural sports.

If you've ever been in the broadcast perch, you know that it 1) gives a perfect view of the field and 2) has zero frills. And on a cold rainy Saturday, it provided very little protection from the elements.

Still, even with the shaky weather, it was still fun. And a little different.

Before the game started, TigerBlog told Zack to keep an eye on No. 22 from Princeton and that he was a special player. That became obvious early, when No. 22 - Michael Sowers - put up three goals and two assists in the first 23 minutes, en route to a five-goal, four-assist day in the 17-8 Tiger win.

Even Zack figured that part out.

As the game went along, Zack didn't really have to do much. When TB did ask him for the number of a player who had a ground ball or caused a turnover, it usually went something like this:
TB: What number is the guy on the crease who knocked the ball away?
Zack (pointing 50 yards in the wrong direction): Him?
TB: Never mind. Got it.

In truth, Zack was very helpful. And, as someone who has worked in college athletic communications for a long time, TB can tell you that when you find a student-worker you can trust to handle basically all of the responsibilities of a game, you have something really rare. It's obvious that the people had Penn have their full faith in Zack.

As for the game, it was also a running commentary back and forth between Zack and TB about anything and everything, lacrosse and otherwise. TB couldn't help but laugh every time Zack would say something that sounded like what TB might have said - like when Zack praised his own calf muscles.

And of course, TigerBlog was once again struck by how time has gone by, and now the next generation of his friends' families are starting to take their places in the world - just like his own kids are.

First it was Patrick McCarthy, Tom McCarthy's son, with whom TB did several men's basketball games on the radio this winter. And now it was Zack DiGregorio, Digger's son, with whom TB was now doing, of all random things, lacrosse stats.

TigerBlog remembers when they were born. He'd seen them grow up, and when he hadn't seen them, he heard from their fathers - two of his best friends - how they were doing, what was new, what they were into, where they were headed.

For Zack, that could be law school. As a Penn junior, TigerBlog thought the same thing for his own future, until he was distracted for, oh, nearly 35 years by what he does now.

Wherever he's headed, Zack will get there. Some kids, adults, whatever - you can just tell. Zack is one of them.

In the meantime, he can keep going down the path of his life at Penn. He's an athlete. He's a writer. He's a student-worker. He's a pre-law student.

And for one damp Saturday, he was a lacrosse spotter. TigerBlog was there too, back at his alma mater, with the son of one of his best friends.

TigerBlog has kept stats at a few hundred lacrosse games.

This one he'll remember for a little longer than most.

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