Monday, September 16, 2013

Sunday Afternoon At Bedford And Roberts

TigerBlog parked his car, walked down the path towards Roberts Stadium and Bedford Field and heard the roar of the crowd.

Clearly, someone had scored in the field hockey game. Clearly, it was Princeton, which had cut Penn State's lead to 4-3 with, as it turned out, 13 minutes left.

By the time he got to Bedford Field, there were about seven minutes to go. TB got to see the final frantic minutes of the game, which seemed headed to a late tying goal and then OT.

Unfortunately, it never happened. This time, Princeton had no late magic, and Penn State was able to escape with a 4-3 win over the defending NCAA champion.

After that, it was time for the two minute walk over to Roberts Stadium, for Princeton's men's soccer home opener against Seton Hall. Princeton would win 1-0, on freshman Bryan Windsor's first career goal, which came midway through the second half.

Let's go back to field hockey for a minute.

The first thing TB noticed was that crowd at Bedford Field was huge. And from where TB stood, behind the goal, it looked awesome.

Princeton had several chances in the seven minutes that TB saw but just couldn't convert. Each time Princeton had possession, and the buzz would grow, only to be end in an unsatisfying "oooooooohhhhhhhhhh" as the ball just didn't find the cage.

And yes, it would have been nice had Princeton gotten the equalizer. Still, TB was more focused on the big picture.

He thought back to the first Princeton field hockey games he ever saw, which were played on Gulick Field, which was the field above Lourie-Love Field. If you stood by the benches on Lourie-Love, Gulick - the field next to it - was slightly elevated.

Today those two fields make up Roberts Stadium. The hill that Gulick Field was on was smoothed out to create Plummer Field, the FieldTurf practice field next to Myslik Field, the soccer game field.

Back then, Gulick was an immaculately maintained grass field with small wooden bleachers and no amenities. The key word here is grass, as in the surface field hockey used to be played on, back before basically every college team switched to artificial turf.

The ball flies on the turf, as opposed to natural grass. No matter how much TB liked Gulick Field (with its huge parking lot behind it, a parking lot that is now the neuroscience building), it's impossible to argue that the sport is so much faster, so much more athletic, on artificial turf.

TB has seen pictures of the earliest days of Princeton field hockey. He thinks that the players in those pictures have to marvel at what has become of the sport that they helped mold at Princeton.

Today Princeton plays at a field hockey-only facility. The crowd at yesterday's game dwarfed any TB ever saw at Gulick.

And who was there to watch? Men. Women. Boys. Girls. It was a perfectly pristine late summer day, and families and fans came out to see field hockey.

There was nothing odd or special about it. And that's the real story. It's a real victory for women's athletics when fans come out to support them like that, and it shows how mainstream women's sports are, especially at schools like Princeton.

Sometimes marketing can be tricky. And expensive. Other times it can be simple and free. Here is the defending NCAA champion, stocked with Olympians and national team players, not to mention a roster of seemingly likeable women. It's a recipe for marketing success.

Then there was the soccer game.

TB loves to watch games at Roberts, where no matter where one goes there is a perfect view of the field, combined with one familiar face after another, one familiar youth jersey after another.

TB's favorite spot to watch is from behind the goals, where he can stand, kibbitz and watch the game.

For the Seton Hall game, TB spent about 20 minutes behind the goal and the rest of the game in the press box.

It was the debut of John Nolan, who is doing the audio for Princeton men's and women's soccer this year on, as part of the Ivy League Digital Network.

John is a Syracuse alum and the radio voice of the Fort Wayne Tin Cats, the Single-A affiliate of the San Diego Padres. His presence will greatly enhance the videostreaming, which previously has not included any audio.

Windsor's goal was all the Tigers would get and all they would need. They would come close to getting a few more but couldn't convert, but the team that deserved to win did so in this one.

Princeton is now 1-2, having played the tough New Jersey trio of FDU, Rutgers and now Seton Hall.

TB was happy for Jim Barlow that his team won, especially with the way the Tigers had clearly outplayed the Pirates.

Beyond the win and the loss, though, TB's time Sunday afternoon was a reminder of what a great product Princeton offers to the local community at these two venues - and for free.

When the weather is perfect, like it was Sunday, it just makes it even that much better.

Yes, getting a sweep would have been great.

On this Sunday afternoon, though, it was still a pretty good place for a Princeton fan to be.

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