Wednesday, March 18, 2009

I Can See Clearly Now the Rain is Gone... And What I See is the #1 Team in the Country

Every spring, the Princeton baseball team travels to North Carolina and Virginia over Spring Break for a week of games that head coach Scott Bradley often refers to as Spring Training. It's a chance to play every day, try out different lineup combinations and give different pitchers the chance to show what they can do.

It also gives Bradley a chance to set up his weekend pitching rotation because the Ivy League season begins just a week after the team returns to Princeton. And, as might be expected, it seems that every year the Tigers run into rain on their spring trip and usually miss a game.

But this year has been different. The team left campus at 12 noon on Friday and about an hour into its trip learned that Saturday’s doubleheader at Norfolk State would be rained out. To make up for that day the Tigers added a game on Monday, which was a scheduled off day, at Elon. A day later the second doubleheader at Norfolk State was rained out and Princeton was headed to North Carolina.

The Tigers got to North Carolina, but the giant rain cloud over the Middle Atlantic states was still there, raining out the Monday game at Elon. There was good news though, as the weather was breaking and Princeton would be able to get its game in on Tuesday. The only problem was that it would be at North Carolina, the nation’s top-ranked team.

So here’s the situation: After three days of lying around hotels and the bus, the team had to go against the best team in the country. Not an easy task.

For the two days in Norfolk, the team literally sat around a hotel for two days. A few guys found batting cages to go to, but since it never stopped raining, the team was unable to even go through a workout. Unlike most Northern teams, most Southern teams do not have indoor facilities to hit and throw in because they tend to not need them. If the rainouts happened at Princeton, the team could still work in the pit, but there was no such option in Norfolk. On Monday, it looked like there would be baseball played. Princeton traveled to Elon, took batting practice and had the pitchers loosen up, only to see about 10 minutes before the game was set to start, the rains come again.

Back to Tuesday at UNC. TigerBlog has seen its share of St. Patrick’s Day games at Boshamer Stadium. TigerBlog remembers a home run that Ryan Eldridge hit there a few years that probably still hasn’t landed. Tuesday’s game was one not to remember. Princeton was one-hit in a 17-0 loss to the Tar Heels.

“To be honest, we looked like a team that had laid in hotel beds for three days,” said Bradley. “If you look at our last two weeks, we played well at William & Mary two weekends ago. Then we came home and had the guys go through midterms so a lot of practices last week were optional. Then we go on the road, only to have three days rained out. Then it finally gets nice out and we have to face the best team in the country. That is a rough stretch.”

What makes it even tougher is that the Ivy League season starts in a week and a half and Bradley still has a lot of unknowns about his lineup that he hoped would have been answered in the games that were rained out.

“The doubleheader games would have been very useful because it would have given us a chance to split games and run a lot of different guys out there,” says Bradley. “They let us try different lineups. Now that were down to single games, we have less flexibility in who we play.”

It also has had effects on Princeton’s pitching. Bradley had hoped to solidify his weekend rotation with last weekend’s scheduled games at Norfolk State and this weekend’s games at Navy. But the weather definitely has changed that. As a result Bradley tried to work three of his starters into yesterday’s game on limited pitch counts to get them the work they would need to be ready for the weekend.

“The hardest part is definitely managing our pitching with the weekend in mind,” added Bradley. “We got David Hale and Brad Gemberling some work. We also started Dan Barnes, but he had to leave early with some arm discomfort. That could be the result of sitting in a hotel for three days, or it could be a bigger problem and we just don’t know yet.”

David Palms will get the start for the Tigers this afternoon against North Carolina.

“Hopefully we got all the rust out of our systems last night,” said Bradley. “We have a lot of work to do before the Ivy opener.”

Looking ahead, Langford Stuber will start Thursday’s game at North Carolina A&T, Friday’s starter in unknown with Barnes potentially unavailable, Hale and Gemberling will pitch the doubleheader on Saturday and Palms will go again on Sunday.

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