Monday, October 11, 2010

No Place Like Home

TigerBlog saw something that he would call, uh, unusual this morning as he made his way to Lot 21.

Driving down a Princeton side street, he saw an elderly man hurrying in his direction, wearing a sport coat and carrying a ping pong paddle. TigerBlog assumes that he has a regular game a neighbor's house and wasn't simply wandering the streets looking for a table and a little white ball.

It reminded TB of the very first episode of "Seinfeld," when Kramer walks into Jerry's apartment with two pieces of bread and says: "Do you have any meat?"

TB first played ping pong back at Camp Toledo, a sleepaway camp he attended for five summers, from ages 6-10. He learned to play from a girl named Joni Meister, who was probably two or three years older than TB and who used to keep her left hand behind her back while she simply returned every ball that was hit her way. It's been a long, long time, but TB remembers that she was somewhat unbeatable.

Through the years, TB has emulated that style ever since, rarely going for winners and simply keeping the ball in play. The theory is that eventually your opponent will lose patience and make a mistake.

TB's cousins Paul and Janet used to have a table in their basement, and Paul was famous for pounding the table with his paddle to try to fluster his opponent. The Joni Meister strategy was perfect for combating this, since it also kept you on an even keel for the whole game.

TB's strategy in Foosball is a little different. In Foosball, TB always keeps his left hand on the goalie and only moves his right hand to the other three positions. That way, if the ball moves quickly down the table, the goalie is always ready to keep the ball out of the goal, rather than just hanging out waiting for the quick transition from the two offensive rows to the defensive end.

In transitioning from defense to offense, TB likes to have the goalie move the ball up one row and then have the two defenders move it to the five guys in the middle. This is as opposed to simply hammering the ball up the table, because it could take any number of crazy hops along the way.

Foosball, of course, is the table soccer game where one or two players control four rows of players. These players can spin forward or backward, so it's possible to institute the mayhem strategy of simply spinning all the rows and hoping something good happens.

Real soccer is not played on a field made of cardboard with a ball that makes a "plunk" sound when it smashes into the sides. The players also don't spin forward and backward and don't have to move in four separate units.

Perhaps one exception to the spinning rule is the Brown women's soccer player who did her throw-ins after doing a complete flip forward, the point of which is to get the ball to travel further. She did it several times Saturday against Princeton, and her throws did set up several good chances for the Bears.

None of them paid off, though, as Princeton won 1-0 in a game that came after the men defeated Brown 3-0. Two games, 180 minutes, two wins - Princeton 4, Brown 0.

The wins left both the men and women undefeated and untied in the Ivy League.

The women's team is the only team without a loss or tie in the league. At 3-0-0, the Tigers have nine points, two ahead of 2-0-1 Columbia, Princeton's next league opponent (at Columbia Saturday at 4).

The women's Ivy standings have Princeton with nine points, Columbia with seven and Harvard and Penn with six each at 2-1-0; Princeton still plays all three.

On the men's side, each team has played two league games instead of three, and Princeton and Penn are both 2-0-0, followed by Harvard at 1-0-1. That Brown is not 2-0 might be something of a surpise: the Bears came to Princeton 7-0-2 having outscored their opponents 16-1 before Princeton scored three times.

The real winners at Princeton soccer, though, are the fans, who get to watch the games at Roberts Stadium. The facility, now in its third year, continues to amaze TB every time he's there.

It doesn't matter where you sit in the building, because you are so close to the field at every point, but TB likes the view from directly behind the goals. The field itself is pristine, to the point where when you look at it from the stands, you can't tell where the real grass of Myslik Field ends and the field turf practice field begins.

Clearly the local soccer fans have noticed. Though TB has no numbers to back this claim up, it's his belief that attendance at Princeton soccer has definitely gone up since the stadium opened. And the crowds that come are a cross section of the local Mercer County soccer fans (a large group) and an army of soccer-playing kids in their varied youth jerseys. In short, it's everything Princeton Athletics is looking to have at its events.

The teams have also responded: Princeton's men's and women's teams are combined 3-5 on the road and 10-2-1 at home.

Of course, neither is going to win their league without being able to compete successfully away from home.

Still, it's nice to know that your home facility is nothing short of spectacular.

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