Monday, June 30, 2014

Good Catch

The last thing TigerBlog expected when he heard from Tom McCarthy Friday was that the former Princeton football and men's basketball play-by-play man and current Philadelphia Phillies television voice would end up in SportsCenter's top 10 plays of the day.

When McCarthy checked in Friday, it was to ask for information about David Hale, the Princeton alum who was to pitch Saturday night for the Atlanta Braves against the Phils. And about Princeton's current Major Leaguers, and baseball execs.

This was during the afternoon.

Then, at about 10, TigerBlog got a text from his colleague Yariv Amir, asking if he had seen Tom's catch.

TigerBlog replied that he had not, so Yariv forwarded to him a video clip.

McCarthy was broadcasting from a location in deep centerfield at Citizens Bank Park, something that is done a few times a year, apparently. Freddy Freeman of the Braves launched a towering shot that made its way to where McCarthy was, and as he was calling the home run, he reached out with his glove and caught the ball without ever losing his train of thought.

It was a fairly routine home run call and a relatively easy catch, especially for a former first baseman like Tom McCarthy. To do both at once though? Now that was impressive.

It was so impressive that it reached SportsCenter's top 10 plays. Okay, it was only No. 10. Still, it was something that probably doesn't really happen too often, if ever.

Think of everything that had to happen. They had to be broadcasting from the outfield. A home run had to be hit to their exact location. And he had to catch it.

And why in the world would McCarthy be wearing a baseball glove at that exact moment? TB texted him after the game but forgot to ask him why he had the glove on and if he had worn it the entire game prior to that.

After he caught the ball, McCarthy threw it back onto the field. TB wondered if the security people would take issue with that, which apparently they didn't, though TB doesn't recommend doing so if you happen to be a fan at the game.

McCarthy's career has gone from writing at the Trenton Times to broadcasting Princeton and Rutgers to Minor League baseball to the Mets on the radio and now Phillies on television, along with work on radio and TV for NFL football and NCAA basketball. That's pretty big-time stuff.

Among TigerBlog's best memories of his time at Princeton is the time he spent traveling with McCarthy when he was doing games here. TigerBlog couldn't even begin to estimate the number of hours he and McCarthy spend together driving back and forth throughout the Northeast and to every Ivy League school, as well as flying all over the country for basketball games.

In fact, TB and McCarthy watched Princeton play in five different time zones - the four in the continental U.S. and the one in Hawaii, where TB and McCarthy went on Christmas Day 1998 for the Rainbow Classic, which Princeton would win.

To this day TigerBlog figures he has not spent more time traveling with any other single person than Tom McCarthy. They were great times.

Way back when, McCarthy did an ESPN radio show every afternoon, and on Fridays during Ivy League basketball season he'd do his show either from Jadwin or the away venue. One of TB's favorite pictures ever is of a young TigerBlog Jr. with McCarthy courtside at Jadwin some Friday afternoon while McCarthy did his show.

These days, McCarthy is constantly on airplanes and in hotels. It's the life of the Major League player and broadcaster. It's glamorous, but it's also grueling.

Even when the Phils are home, it's a long day and longer night. And Saturday was a day-night doubleheader.

Hale pitched Game 2 of the doubleheader, going five innings and getting the win as the Braves completed a sweep with a 5-1 victory. Now in his first full season in the Majors, Hale improved to 3-2, with a 3.02 ERA and a 1.30 WHIP.

Hale has quickly developed in a very important member of the Braves' staff. He can start - something he's done five times - and come out of the bullpen - something he's done 19 other times. He has pitched 53.2 innings, with 25 strikeouts. He needs to cut down on his 23 walks, which is what has pushed him WHIP up, but he only walked one in five innings against the Phillies Saturday.

What he's mostly doing is establishing himself as a legitimate Major League pitcher, something that is Step 1 for a 26-year-old pitcher he had 11 innings in the big leagues for his career prior to this season.

As for the Braves, they're in what figures to be just a two-time race in the NL East, along with the Washington Nationals. Having someone like Hale is invaluable during the long summer.

So far, he's been a good catch for Atlanta.

Not as good as the one Tom McCarthy made, but still a good one.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Advancing ... And Seeing Pete

TigerBlog doesn't understand why everyone either associated with or rooting for the U.S. at the World Cup was content with what happened yesterday against Germany.

Isn't the point to try to win the World Cup, not just get to the round of 16?

The U.S. went into its game yesterday against Germany knowing a win would mean first place in the group (and can everyone stop saying "Group of Death" please?). Instead, the U.S. lost 1-0 in a game in which it had no shots on goal and the German goalkeeper therefore had to make no saves.

Yes, the U.S. advanced to the knockout stage. Is that really all that matters?

Four years ago, with a Princeton alum as the coach, the U.S. did that and also won the group, so a loss in the next game would mean that the U.S. didn't quite match what it did in South Africa in 2010.

The U.S. moved on because Ghana lost to Portugal 2-1 and the U.S. had the edge on Portugal in goal differential. The Ghana-Portugal game provided some big drama, since it was 1-1 for awhile in the second half and a 2-1 Ghana win would have meant that Ghana moved on and the U.S. went home because of goal differential, even though the U.S. beat Ghana head-to-head, which doesn't matter.

The point nobody seemed to want to make was that the difference between being first and second in the U.S. group was on paper at least astronimical.

Germany, by virtue of its win, plays Algeria in the next round, and the winner of that game will play the winner of France and Nigeria. The U.S., by coming in second, plays Belgium, with the winner to play the winner of Argentina and Switzerland.

What's the difference?

Well, all three of the teams in Germany's part of the bracket are ranked below the U.S. in the FIFA rankings, while all three in the U.S. bracket are ahead of the Americans.

For the record, here are their rankings:
2. Germany
5. Argentina
6. Switzerland
11. Belgium (and the ranking doesn't take into account that Belgium is Princeton men's soccer coach Jim Barlow's darkhorse pick)
13. U.S.A.
17. France
22. Algeria
44. Nigeria

That's a ridiculous gap. And yet nobody talked about it. The U.S. has to play the team ranked 11th; Germany gets the team ranked 22nd.

Silly TigerBlog. He thought the point was to win the whole thing. Or at least do better than last time.

Yes, advancing past a group that included Germany, Portugal and Ghana wasn't going to be easy and is an accomplishment itself. But what about at least some sense that a great opportunity to be ranked ahead of the other three teams in the bracket leading to the semifinals got away.

Hey, maybe the U.S. can beat Belgium.

Anyway, that was what TigerBlog noticed about the game yesterday.

He also noticed that everyone around here was watching it. And everywhere else.

Ratings have been great for the 2014 World Cup so far, and TB attributes that 1) to the rise of international soccer coverage in this country in the last 10 years and 2) the fact that soccer is a fairly perfect TV sport.

The games fit nicely into two-hour windows. And there are no media timeouts.

Think about the difference between watching an NFL football game, a college basketball game and a World Cup match on TV.

The NFL has the dreaded score, TV timeout, kickoff, TV timeout, play situation in which the only live action in about a six-minute stretch is the kickoff, which often is a touchback anyway.

And a college basketball game? There are nine media timeouts and up to 10 called team timeouts in regulation, and the last two minutes of game action regularly take 15-20 minutes of real time to play.

Soccer has none of these issues. The game is played, and it never stops for artificial timeouts.

As a result a 90-minute game is played in less than two hours. In football, a 60-minute game takes three. In college basketball, a 40-minute game takes more than two.

ESPN must be making money off the World Cup, no? Even without TV timeouts.

Perhaps there's something in there that could apply to the football and basketball games on TV?

Speaking of basketball and Princeton, the Tigers' men's team will play in the Wooden Legacy in California this coming November, which will be here before you know it, TigerBlog surmises.

Princeton will be traveling the furthest to get to the event, which will be held in Fullerton and then Anaheim. The other seven teams are Western Michigan, Xavier, San Jose State, Washington, UTEP, San Diego and Long Beach State. The matchups will be announced later this summer.

For its long history of great basketball, Princeton has only played in Los Angeles once before. That was back in 1970, when Princeton played in the Bruin Classic.

The Tigers defeated Indiana in the first game and then lost 76-75 to UCLA - who would win the NCAA title again - in the final. Princeton lost on a buzzer-beater by, as TB recalls, Sidney Wicks.

Pete Carril was the Tiger coach back then. The win over Indiana was his 43rd at Princeton. The win over UCLA in the 1996 NCAA tournament would be his 514th and final one.

TigerBlog wrote about Carril a few years ago - actually more than seven years ago - and he had this to say:
“I get calls every year when the tournament comes around,” says Carril. “We played some games much better than that one. That one got a whole lot more recognition for that one than for some others. We played UCLA out there once [a 76-75 loss at UCLA in the 1969-70 season] when they were No. 1. We lost by one at the buzzer. We were ahead the whole time. Nobody ever really talks too much about that one.”

He's right. Almost nobody talks about that game.

TigerBlog saw Carril yesterday here at Jadwin. TB said hi, and Carril answered with a hearty "yo." TB asked how he was, and Carril said "still hanging in."

Yes he is. His 84th birthday is next month, and yet he remains what he has always been - a personality larger than any other that has ever walked into this building. TB thinks that point is indisputable.

And so it was, as it always is, great to see him.

Anyway, today is a day off at the World Cup, which resumes tomorrow with the first knockout games.
The U.S. plays Tuesday; will it be seen as a great run by the U.S. if it loses?

Thursday, June 26, 2014

We're No. 44, And No. 1

TigerBlog thinks he watched more of the College World Series than he did of the NBA and NHL playoffs combined.

That's not really saying much, since he hardly watched any of the pro playoffs. He definitely watched more of the NCAA men's lacrosse tournament first round than he did of all three of the other events combined.

The College World Series ended yesterday, as Vanderbilt defeated Virginia in the decisive third game 3-2, snapping a tie game on a home run in the eighth inning from John Norwood. It was the first NCAA men's championship in Vanderbilt history, and the school's only previous NCAA title was in women's bowling.

In case you don't have a calendar or a calendar app on your phone, yesterday was June 25. Or, in other words, it was long after school ended and graduations were held at basically every college in America.

So is it a good idea or a bad idea to extend the season so long after the players are no longer in school? Graduation at Vanderbilt, for instance, was May 9; the last day of finals was May 1.

TigerBlog isn't sure.

On the one hand, the point of college athletics is that they are representing the school as students as well as athletes, and there is supposed to be a balance between the two, or at the very least in some cases the appearance of a balance between the two.

The fall sports seasons now get going on most campuses before classes begin, but at least they are looming in the near future

In the case of playing long after school has ended, there is no academic component of any kind. And in this case, it's going on for nearly two months after that academic component has ended. Actually, going back to Vanderbilt's academic calendar, the players could be enrolled in summer classes, which began June 3, though there is no requirement that they are. TB wonders how many have been doing so. He'd guess the number isn't high.

The reason for doing this, of course, is the weather. Why play huge baseball games in April when May and ultimately June are much more conducive to it?

All of this takes TB to his favorite sport, lacrosse.

Exactly four months to the day before the College World Series ended, TigerBlog stood on a field at Manhattan College and shivered while Princeton defeated the home team 14-8. Gametime temperature was 28 degrees; by the time it ended, it was about half that.

The NCAA lacrosse championships for the men and women are both held Memorial Day weekend. Would it make more sense to start lacrosse season later and go into June for the championships?

Forgetting things like academic calendars and the lacrosse culture and the history of having the final on Memorial Day, it would make unbelievable sense weather-wise at least. Most of the lacrosse world plays, what, 80% of its games before the Northeast spring turns consistently favorable.

Maybe it's worth trying. TB doubts it will happen. If anything, it's likely that the opposite will be true, and the season will continue to start earlier and earlier.

Anyway, the last out of the baseball game last night also meant the end of the athletic year of 2013-14 for college athletics.

Though the final standings won't be announced until tomorrow, Princeton will be 44th in the final Learfield Sports NACDA Directors' Cup standings, which use NCAA championship participation and finish to rank the top programs in Division I, Division II and Division III. Once again, Princeton will be the highest finishing Ivy League school.

In addition, Princeton will also be the fourth-best among teams not from the five power conferences (SEC, Big 10, Pac 12, ACC, Big Ten), behind Louisville, BYU and, of all people, Denver.

This year is the 21st year of the Directors' Cup, which has had several different sponsors during that time. Princeton has finished in the top 50 18 times.

The 2013-14 year is also the 18th time in those 21 years that Princeton has finished first in the Ivy League.

TigerBlog always loves to look at the standings and see the teams that finished directly behind Princeton, because those are usually schools that devote much greater financial resources - and fully funded athletic scholarships - to athletics.

This year, Princeton is No. 44. Who's next?

No. 45 is Missouri. No. 46 is Illinois. No. 47 is Purdue.

No. 48? Harvard.

It will all become official when the final standings are released, probably tomorrow. The NACDA people had to wait until the end of the athletic year to do so.

And now it's over.

Long after the academic year.

TigerBlog thinks it might be worth trying it for lacrosse.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

"In Fairness ... I Like To Bite Into An Italian Sub Too."

So the one guy bit the other guy at the World Cup and then tried to pretend he didn't?

And then the other guy kept trying to show his shoulder to the ref to show him the bite marks?

TigerBlog is clearly all in on the World Cup. Hey, Costa Rica won its group and will play Greece Sunday for a spot in the quarterfinals.

It's been a really great run for CONCACAF in the group stages. Costa Rica and Mexico both have advanced, and the U.S. probably will. Honduras probably won't, but that's still two definites and possibly a third of the four teams.

Contrast that with Europe.

Italy and England were in a group with Uruguay and Costa Rica, and the English and Italians are probably on the plane home right now. Spain is already home. Portugal will probably be joining them.

It would be hard to find any World Cup pre-tournament predictions that didn't have a few of them in the knockout round, if not all of them. And had at least one of them getting to the semifinals.

The European team that's looking good is the Netherlands, which went 3-0-0 in its group and outscored its opponents 10-3. Oh, and Belgium, who as everyone knows Princeton men's soccer coach Jim Barlow said to watch out for before the tournament started. 

The U.S. has its quick turnaround from Sunday's agonizing 2-2 tie with Portugal, in which the U.S. was seconds away from clinching a spot in the knockout round. Now the Americans have to take on Germany, the second-ranked team in the world, tomorrow at noon.

In reality, it would take a lot for one of these teams not to qualify. A tie and they both advance. A win by one and the tiebreakers still favor the one that loses, unless the loser gives up a ton of goals in the process.

For everything that TB loves about the World Cup, there are three things that continue to torture him.

First, there are the timekeeping rules. They are a nightmare. Why can't the clock simply stop on the ref's signal, like it does in every other sport? If that had been the case, maybe Portugal never would have scored the tying goal.

Second, there is the officiating in general. Either it's too much to ask for one ref to see everything (and for the assistant to see offsides) or maybe there are just more bad calls in soccer than any other sport. TB just doesn't want to see something like the World Cup decided by a terrible call.

And lastly, there is the silliness of some of the players. They take way too many dives, often giving up on the ball in the process. They act like they have suffered life-threatening injuries at the slightest touch. It's ridiculous. And it ruins the game far too many times.

And in the case of Luis Suarez, sometimes they bite. Now that's really, really ridiculous. Suarez should be on his way home too. There's no way that can be tolerated.

On the other hand, it led to some great Tweets. The best that TB saw said "In fairness to Suarez, I like to bite into an Italian sub too."

Anyway, what does any of this have to do with Princeton sports? Nothing.

But give TigerBlog a break.

The biggest thing in the world right now is the World Cup. Around here, it's pretty quiet.

People often ask Tigerblog if he works in the summer, or if positions in the athletic department are 10 months, like the school year. The answer is yes, he works all summer.

It's just that there are no events. In fact, the last athletic event of the 2013-14 academic year was the NCAA track and field championships, which ended June 14. The first athletic events of the next academic year are, TB believes, Sept. 5.

That makes it an 83-day gap from the end of one year to the next. Today would be Day 11 of 83, or 13.3% of the way there.

In other words, there's a long way to go. The mid-way point would be Day 42, which would be July 28, and that's still a long way off.

Right now is filled with stories about schedules for next year, athletes and coaches (current or alums) who are receiving some special honors and the kind of stuff that fills a webpage in the summer.

TB believes that it's important to keep coming up with as much new content in the summer as possible. It keeps people coming back. If the same picture greets you when you get there, then you figure there's nothing new to see here and go off to some other site.

In fact, the news never really stops flowing all summer. It always amazes TB.

For that matter, there's always something for TigerBlog to write about all summer as well.

Some days it's a little more Princeton-centric than others.

Today wasn't one of them, but hey, what do you expect on Day 11?

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Imported From Europe

TigerBlog's first line today will be his last line from yesterday.

Well, let him put that another way, since he's already on his second line of the day and hasn't gotten back to yesterday's last line.

How about this: TigerBlog's will essentially start today where he left off yesterday, when his last line was this: "If you're still ho-humming the World Cup, you're missing out big time."

TB got a few emails yesterday about that, from people who said that they were in fact ho-humming the World Cup. It got TB to thinking why that is.

Why is it that there is a huge section of this country that not only isn't enthralled by the World Cup but also is completely, unwavering against the whole show?

TB has three theories.

First, there's the whole "soccer is dull" argument because there isn't a lot of scoring. TB used to think this way also, until he really started to watch it on the international level. The best game of the tournament so far might have been the 0-0 tie between Mexico and Brazil.

Then there's the whole "the U.S. would be killing everyone if its best athletes played soccer" group. There is some merit to this. The best athletes in the U.S. play basketball and football - and lacrosse, obviously. The best athletes in the other 31 teams at the World Cup all play soccer. The attitude then essentially becomes "if the U.S. put its best effort, it would be the best team, but we don't, so why bother?"

There is something to this. It's hard for TB to believe that Ghana, for instance, would be able to compete with the U.S. in something the U.S. really wants to try to win.

Lastly, there is the fact that the U.S. has little chance to actually win. This one fascinates TB because of its insights into the American psyche.

America loves to root for the underdog, right? But that seems to only apply when the underdog is playing another American team - or if the American underdog wins internationally. The Miracle on Ice, for instance, was the ultimate underdog story, and that, along with the political temperature of the day, is why it has become the No. 1 sports event of all time.

But rooting for the U.S. soccer team if it isn't going to win, or possibly even advance? That's un-American, no?

So TigerBlog gets it. Still, the World Cup is such a tremendous event, with such incredibly drama and fervor, that none of those other things should matter a little bit.

And as for the fervor, that is something that the U.S. simply can't generate. Why? Is it because this country simply can't unite completely about anything?

Ah, TB doesn't want to get all philosophical here. That's all he has to say about it today.

Besides, he wants to talk about international basketball, not soccer right now.

David Blatt has been a lifer coaching in Europe, with a 20-year run that includes stops in Turkey, Italy, Russia and most recently Israel, where he led Maccabi Tel Aviv to the Euroleague championship this past season.

Blatt is a 1981 Princeton graduate who played for Pete Carril on the men's basketball team and was the captain of the 1980-81 team that beat Penn in a playoff game to get to the NCAA tournament.

Blatt's introduction to overseas basketball came in Israel, where he played on the U.S. team that won a gold medal at the 1981 Maccabiah Games.

His reputation as a basketball coach skyrocketed in recent years, first when he led Russia to the bronze medal at the 2012 Olympic Games in London and then with the Euroleague title with Maccabi Tel Aviv.

And now he's back in the United States, with his first shot in the NBA, as head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

TigerBlog has a friend in Ohio who is an actual Cavs fans. Yesterday's messages: "anything would be better than Mike Brown again" and "I think we're paying three coaches that have been fired."

The Cavs job is radically different if the team lures LeBron James back to town or if it doesn't, but the team should be improved even without James. With James it obviously would become an instant title contender.

Blatt would never have gotten this chance even a decade ago. Now the basketball world is a much bigger one, and the selection of a coach with no NBA experience but a ton on international experience is seen as enlightened.

TigerBlog counts six Princeton alums who are current Division I head men's basketball coaches - Princeton coach Mitch Henderson, along with John Thompson at Georgetown, Chris Mooney at Richmond, Joe Scott at Denver, Sydney Johnson at Fairfield and Mike Brennan at American.

Blatt is Princeton's first NBA head coach since Butch van Breda Kolff. He's in a great situation in Cleveland, one that could expand exponentially with the right free agent domino.

And now it's back to the World Cup. After all, Los Ticos play at noon.

Monday, June 23, 2014

A 2-2 Loss

Had the United States men's soccer team been offered the opportunity to take one point from its game against Portugal yesterday without having to actually play the game, TigerBlog is pretty sure the answer would have been "where do we sign?"

That would especially have been true five minutes into the game, when the U.S. gave up an awful goal to fall into an early hole.

So why did it feel like the Americans lost when the final whistle of its 2-2 tie with Portugal - the fourth-ranked team in the world in the current FIFA rankings - sounded?

It sure did, didn't it? TigerBlog can't remember too many situations like that, where a team came away with the outcome that it really hoped for and yet had it seem to be so crushing at the same time. The famous 29-29 Harvard-Yale tie in 1968 doesn't even fit, because a tie wasn't really what Harvard was hoping for, though it did lead to the immortal headline in the Harvard student paper: "Harvard Beats Yale 29-29."

By now you know what happened in the U.S. Portugal game, which could be called a 2-2 loss.

The U.S. rebounded from that awful goal to basically dominate Portugal. Even when the Americans still trailed 1-0, the sense that the game was turning was obvious.

And then Jermaine Jones curled in one of the best goals TigerBlog has ever seen to tie it at 1-1 in the 64th minute. And then Clint Dempsey chested the ball in to put the U.S. up 2-1 in the 81st minute.

It stayed that way through the 90th minute. Then TB saw five minutes of stoppage time, which is a lot, and thought "oh no."

As it turned out, that was one minute - or 30 seconds - too much. Christiano Ronaldo made a perfect cross to set up Varela, and it was a 2-2 final. In fact, the final whistle was blown just after the U.S. restarted the game.

Had the U.S. won, it would have clinched a spot in the knockout rounds and would have eliminated Portugal. Instead, all four teams in the group are still alive, as the U.S. plays Germany and Portugal plays Ghana Thursday, with both games at noon.

The U.S. is still in great shape to move on, even if it loses to Germany. Should the U.S. win or tie, it would definitely advance. Should the U.S. lose to Germany, then it would still have a huge edge in the tiebreakers.

As for the benefit of winning the group instead of finishing second, well, that's a big one. The first-place team in the U.S. group will play either Algeria, Russia or South Korea in the round of 16 (Sweet 16?). The second-place team in the U.S. group will play Belgium. That's a huge difference.

Still, when the draw was announced, the goal for the U.S. was to simply make it through, something that seemed unlikely with the fourth-ranked Portuguese, the second-ranked Germans and the long-time nemesis Ghana.

And now the Americans figure to get there. Of course, the team was so agonizingly close that it's hard to look at the tie against Portugal as a step in the right direction.

The World Cup is like no other event in the world, and this country is really missing out on what it's all about. There is no national fervor surrounding the World Cup in the U.S. like there is elsewhere.

TB emailed Diego Quesada, one of the men's lacrosse team's guides in Costa Rica in 2012, after "Los Ticos" knocked off Italy to go to 2-0-0 and clinch a spot in the knockout rounds. Diego said it was nuts there after the win.

In the U.S. it would have been nice to win, but there are still way more "what's the fuss about" people than there are "this is the greatest sporting event in the world" people.

TB was more into the U.S. team when Princeton's Bob Bradley was the head coach four years ago. Now he's rooting for the Americans, but he won't be crushed if it doesn't work out for them, as opposed to four years ago, when Ghana knocked the U.S. out. TB really wanted to see Bradley take the U.S. deep into the World Cup playoffs.

There is still a Bradley on the U.S. team - Michael Bradley, Bob's son and a former Princeton ballboy.

Shortly before Michael Bradley was about to play for the U.S. team, his uncle Scott - Princeton baseball coach Scott Bradley - was playing in the Old Timers' game at Yankee Stadium.

Scott ripped a solid single to rightfield and the was interviewed on the YES network, where he was asked primarily about his nephew and the World Cup.

It was pretty cool four years ago to have the Princeton baseball coach be the brother of the U.S. men's national team coach at the World Cup. It's not as cool this year, with only one Bradley on the U.S. team.

Still, the game yesterday was fairly heart-stopping, and it was much of what makes the World Cup great. An early goal always make the game better, as it changes the strategy for both teams. And to have the U.S. team come back the way it did was awesome, and from simply a fan of great sports moments perspective, the ending was also ridiculous.

And it sets up a wild Thursday to decide the group's two representatives in the next rounds.

If you're still ho-humming the World Cup, you're missing out big time.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Guest TigerBlog: Greg Paczkowski's Special Olympics Report

TigerBlog was working at the flag football awards ceremonies yesterday for Special Olympics USA 2014 at the Lawrenceville School. 

The procedure was fairly standard. The teams would come across the stage at Lawrenceville's Kirby Theater, and each player's name would be announced as the medal was presented by one of the four New Jersey state troopers who participated or, for a few of the teams, by Cleveland Browns' cornerback Joe Haden. Then the athletes would be given bouquets of flowers and the teams would pose for pictures before the next team came out.

There were the standard reactions of athletes who receive medals. Mostly there were smiles, high-fives, hugs among teammates, handshakes for everyone and anyone they saw as they as they left the stage.

Then there was Anthony Deaton, from the unified team from Oklahoma. 

When Deaton - a tall, slender man probably in his late 20s to 30 - received his medal from the state trooper, he broke down in tears. He sobbed uncontrollably, thanking her profusely. He looked at his medal - a bronze - and cried again. 

It was a moment of pure, unfiltered joy. It was genuine emotion, and it was impossible to see it without becoming emotional as well, especially from TigerBlog's distance of about five feet away. 

For TB, it'll be one of the lasting images he takes from his time this week at Special Olympics, in a week that has been filled with lasting images. TB is also not alone among the volunteers to have this kind of experience. 

Greg Paczkowski - whose official title at at Princeton is Assistant Director of Athletics for Facilities and Aquatics but who really does a ton of everything - helped along with Karen Malec to plan and oversee the portions of the Games that have been held at Princeton. He asked TB earlier this week if he could write something about his own experience, and TB wasn't surprised to see that it mirrored his own.

Greg Paczkowski's thoughts:
It is lunchtime on a Wednesday afternoon in DeNunzio Pool.  Normally the building would be nearly silent, where all you could hear is the sound of the water as it overflows into the gutters.  Today was different. A near deafening roar of applause from a capacity crowd fills the building as a young swimmer hits the touchpad to finish his 100-freestyle.  The other 7 swimmers who finished in front of him cheer for him as well and congratulate him on his last place finish. As the young man looks up at the scoreboard he screams in excitement “THAT’S MY BEST TIME!” As he gets out of the pool he puts his hands over his head and the crowd goes nuts again. Timers, officials, lifeguards, and other staff high five and congratulate him as he walks by with the biggest smile you have ever seen on his face.  You can’t help but get a little misty eyed when you witness this first hand. This is Special Olympics. 

About four years ago I sat in a meeting in D-Level conference room where the idea of bringing the swimming and track and field events of the 2014 USA Games to Princeton was discussed. None of us had any idea what to expect and it all seemed so far away. As time went on we had regular meetings to discuss the logistics on how an event of this magnitude with 3,500 athletes and 10,000 volunteers across 11 venues throughout Mercer County would run. We discussed the challenges of holding a large track meet and swim meet simultaneously during the normal Princeton workday as it related to parking, security, concessions, and janitorial coverage. This was truly a University wide undertaking composed of representatives from about ten different departments across campus.   

There was one thing that was left out of those meetings that caught me by complete surprise, and that was how much of an inspiration these athletes and their families truly were going to be. I have worked many different events at Princeton over the years and have never been part of an event like this. Of course an event such as the Doug Davis buzzer beater win over Harvard was one of the greatest Princeton events that I witnessed, half of the crowd still left the building upset. Special Olympics is different.

I figured this out very quickly on Monday morning as the song “Happy” played over the PA system in DeNunzio before the start of the session and the entire place spontaneously stood up and danced, including the roughly 100 volunteers that were on the pool deck awaiting the start of the event. Special Olympics is an event where athletes from all 50 states traveled to New Jersey to celebrate and compete WITH each other as opposed to against each other.  

The 2014 USA Games rely almost exclusively on an army’s worth of volunteers in order to make this event a success. Some of these volunteers and coaches from across the country have a personal interest in these events, such as having a child who is competing in the games. I had the chance to get to talk to some of these volunteers and the one reoccurring theme was how much Special Olympics has changed their child by allowing them to meet new people as well as engage in some healthy competition. Special Olympics gave these individuals the opportunity to do something that many people take for granted. 

Many of the other volunteers were not as close to the situation. I watched as these volunteers started to arrive on campus early in the morning still half asleep and not exactly sure what they were walking into. As they started to interact with the athletes they were very quickly transformed, just like I was. They engaged, encouraged, cheered for, and of course, high fived the athletes as they finished their races. All of the volunteers that I spoke with mentioned how this was an experience that they will never forget. 

This event has truly changed my life. I am in awe by how unbelievably positive the athletes and their families are, even with all of the adversity they had to overcome in their lives. This positive attitude enveloped everyone who came into DeNunzio Pool and Weaver Stadium, from the staff that works here every day to the volunteers who were experiencing this for the first time. It is truly inspiring and makes me wish that more people had the opportunity to experience this first hand. It puts life into perspective and makes you realize that it's not worth getting angry over trivial things and that a positive attitude is contagious. 

As Special Olympics comes to a close I really hope that all of the athletes and their families had a wonderful experience in New Jersey and at Princeton. I hope that this was an experience that they will never forget….I know that I won’t. 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Flag Day At Special Olympics USA 2014

TigerBlog used to cover Lawrenceville Prep football when he was in the newspaper business. It was one of his favorite teams to cover.

The coach back then was a man named Vit Piscuskas. TigerBlog remembers him as being a pretty funny man who was a good coach and who appreciated the coverage. TB also remembers reading about Piscuskas when he passed away and being saddened by the news.

Lawrenceville didn't play any local teams. Its entire schedule was made up of similar prep schools spread throughout the Northeast, and TB remembers driving to see a big game between the Big Red and Choate one year.

He also remembers the year Lawrenceville went co-ed, back in 1987, when TB covered Lawrenceville against its biggest rival, Hill. One of the Lawrenceville fans held up a sign that said "Women at Lawrenceville? What's next? Men at Hill?" Now that was funny. And the kind of sophisticated humor that you'd expect from Lawrenceville.

The football field at Lawrenceville was a great place to see a game, set back near a stream on a campus that screams "Ivy League" way more than it does "high school."

TigerBlog hadn't been on that field in 25 years or so - until yesterday, that is, when his week with Special Olympics took him back to Lawrenceville, this time for flag football.

There were four fields set up for the sport, which made its debut at the USA Games four years ago in Nebraska as a demonstration sport. This time, it was a full-fledged sport and a highly competitive one at that, with teams from all over the country.

TigerBlog was stationed on Field 1, which was the main football field at Lawrenceville, now named Keuffel Field, after Ken Keuffel, who coached single-wing football at the prep school decades after learning it from Dick Colman at Princeton.

The flag football games were played on a field 40 yards long and 25 yards wide. Teams had four downs to get to midfield and then four more to get into the end zone. The quarterback couldn't run, and no running plays were permitted within five yards of midfield or the goal line. There were no kickoffs, punts, field goals or extra points. After a touchdown, teams could go for one by putting the ball on the five-yard line or two by putting it on the 10.

The first game of the day matched Texas and Massachusetts. Football, as you might have heard, is big in Texas, even on the Special Olympics level. Oh, and Texas was the only team with its own cheerleaders. And the coaches, some of the fans and some of the cheerleaders wore Cowboy hats.

Not surprisingly, Texas beat Massachusetts 27-6

Rhode Island then knocked off Indiana 42-26 after basically scoring on every possession. The final touchdown came on a pass to the center (all players are eligible receivers), a woman named Audra Leroux. TB asked her if it was her first touchdown, and she replied it was her fifth in two days.

A little later on, it was Louisiana 20, South Carolina 6, in a game that was witnessed by a fairly nice sized crowd that included Cleveland Browns all-pro cornerback Joe Haden and the Giants very likeable punter Steve Weatherford. Louisiana led 18-0 at the half when a young man named Camrin Sandoz came in to play quarterback.

To TigerBlog, Special Olympics is all about people like Camrin Sandoz.

The flag football games that TB saw were all unified games, meaning that they paired Special Olympic athletes and partners who are there to facilitate play. Camrin was one of the Special Olympic athletes on the Louisiana team.

Camrin stood in the pocket looking to throw on his first attempt, even as the rush came straight at him. Eventually he threw a short pass that was intercepted.

The same thing happened on his second attempt.

A little later, Camrin took a pair of handoffs and gained a few yards. Then, in the game's final minute, he threw his third pass, a completion for a short gain.

This is what's it's about. The teams want to win, and that's a huge part of it. But it's not the whole part. No, not even close.

It's also about making sure that the Special Olympic athletes are given every chance to be successful. It's not handed to them, but they are put in position to be successful. Think Camrin was fired up? He threw a completion, ran the ball twice - and his team won.

Oh, and these games are also about fun. Lots of fun.

Like the Texas team, who danced when the game ended. Or the Louisiana and South Carolina teams, who took it to a whole different level.

First they danced together at the half, spontaneously, after a few South Carolina players went out dance to the halftime music that was playing over the PA system. Then the rest of the South Carolina players went out. Then a few of the Louisiana players. Then the rest of them. Eventually they were in  a line, all of them, dancing, falling down, laughing, high-fiving each other, regardless of which team they were on.

The flag football competition concludes today with the final games, including the gold medal game. The desire to win is serious.

That's not all that's going on here.

TigerBlog sees some of the Special Olympics athletes and thinks about how easy it would be for them to be forgotten by society, even by their families possibly. While the rest of society goes about its business, not really considering the great good fortune of not having the mental and physical issues that these athletes do, the competitors that TB has seen all week at these Games are forced to deal every day with those issues.

And you know who gets a lot of the credit for what TB has seen? It's the coaches who teach them and work with them. They were on the sidelines, with the same kind of laminated play sheets that you see in college and NFL football. Only the Xs and Os on these pages take a little longer to figure these plays out, and it takes a special person with special patience to be able to handle it.

And it's about the family members who are there, cheering all the way, like the parents that TB sees at his kids' games.

Mostly, it's about the athletes. The ones with a great spirit and love for the games they're playing.

For them, the opportunity to compete is priceless. It's about playing a sport, trying to excel, trying to improve, trying to win.

It's also about self-worth and purpose and taking a dignified place in society.

It's beautiful to see up close.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

0-0, And 167-23-10

TigerBlog didn't get in front of the TV until only 25 minutes or so were left in the Brazil-Mexico game yesterday.

As it turned out, TB didn't miss any goals, and there would be none after he started watching either.

Some 0-0 ties are tediously boring. Some are sloppy. Some have a near-miss or two and that's about it.

And then there was the Brazil-Mexico game. This had to be the greatest 0-0 game ever, with great chances, tons of drama, a ton at stake and a epic performance by Mexico's goalkeeper, Guillermo Ochoa to keep it scoreless.

In a World Cup that to date has had some fairly high-scoring games, the Brazil-Mexico game has been the best one so far. And that includes the U.S. and its own fairly dramatic game, a 2-1 win over Ghana.

Belgium's 2-1 comeback win over Algeria was another exciting game, as both goals came late and from players who had subbed in. For that matter, John Brooks' game-winner for the U.S. team was the first in World Cup history for an American sub.

The 2014 World Cup is off to a great start, as almost every game has been entertaining. There can be a tendency to play scared on the biggest stage, afraid to take chances for fear of giving up a tournament-changing goal on a counter.

TB is very interested in seeing how Spain bounces back today against a Chilean team that defeated Australia 3-1 in its opener. Spain, the defending champ and No. 1-ranked team in the world, lost 5-1 to the Netherlands in its first game.

TigerBlog can't imagine what it must be like to play in the World Cup for these players, what a complete thrill it must be. He also wonders what percentage of the players in Brazil for the 2014 event will never play in another World Cup, and for that matter how many players will play in their three games of the Group stage, not advance to the knockout rounds and have that be their only World Cup experience for their lifetimes.

Iowa men's basketball coach Fran McCaffery, way back when he was first starting out as a volunteer assistant coach at Penn, told TigerBlog that there's nothing like playing in the NCAA basketball tournament, even if it's done only once in a career. TB assumes the World Cup is like that, only on an order about 100 times higher.

For those in this country who still resist the World Cup, TigerBlog says that you're really missing the boat. It's a phenomenal event, unlike anything else in the world. It's bigger than the Super Bowl, World Series and NCAA tournament - even the lacrosse one - rolled into one.

TigerBlog thought the 0-0 tie was extraordinary in that both teams were going all-out to score, as opposed to playing it conservatively for the tie, even though the time really helped Mexico, a team that barely got into the field in the first place.

TigerBlog wondered about how common 0-0 ties were in soccer at Princeton.

Princeton's men have played one 0-0 game in each of the last three seasons and last played consecutive 0-0 ties in 2004. Princeton played two in 2013 and last played consecutive 0-0 ties in 2009.

It's apparently much rarer in Princeton hockey than it is in soccer.

The women have played exactly 800 games in program history and have two 0-0 ties, in 2004-05 and 2007-08.

And the men? The Princeton men have played 2,323 games and have had exactly one 0-0 tie, in 2006 against Union.

Between the teams, that's 3,123 games and three 0-0 ties, or one every 1,041 games.

Princeton and incoming Ford Family Director of Athletics Mollie Marcoux introduced Ron Fogarty as the new head coach of men's hockey. Fogarty comes to Princeton from Division III Adrian College in Michigan.

Fogarty spent seven years coaching at Adrian, a school that did not have a hockey program before that. In those seven years, Fogarty took Adrian to a 167-23-10, five NCAA tournaments and one NCAA championship game. That's pretty impressive stuff.

Fogarty also knows his way around the ECAC. He was a player at Colgate, graduating in 1995, and he also coached at his alma mater and Clarkson before moving on to Bowling Green and then ultimately to Adrian.

The trip back to the ECAC lands him at Princeton, a team against which he was 3-4-1 as a player. Princeton hockey has a strong fan base and a rink that is a great place to see a game, and now it has a new head coach.

Princeton went 6-26-0 last year, but 12 of the 26 losses were by one or two goals.

And now the transition to the Ron Fogarty era begins. His track record is extraordinary, with that gaudy 167-23-10 record for a .860 winning percentage that led active Division III coaches.

And that was with a program that didn't exist before he got there.

Now he's at Princeton. It'll be 90-something degrees today and the World Cup is just getting into full swing, leaving it fairly far away from thoughts of the winter. Opening day for Princeton hockey is more than four months away.

When it comes, it'll be with Ron Fogarty on the bench.

Welcome to Princeton. Hopefully it'll be for a long and successful tenure.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

A Special Day Of Basketball

TigerBlog assumes that he has the same reaction as most people when they first meet Lucas Erickson.

He noticed the hair.

Lucas Erickson has a lot of hair. He wears it in an Afro. When he walked onto the court at Rider's Alumni Gym wearing his green Oregon jersey, Erickson was in full 1970s mode, with the Afro and a red, white and blue head band.

Erickson is a few weeks away from having all that hair go away, TB supposes at least. Why? Because Erickson, a recent high school graduate, has enlisted in the United States Navy. 

For now, the hair is easy to notice.

It's also easy to notice that Erickson gets it, gets why he was on the court at Rider yesterday, on Day 1 of the basketball competition for the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games. TigerBlog couldn't help but notice that either.

Erickson was competing in the unified division of basketball, as opposed to the traditional. In the traditional division - whose games were being played at The College of New Jersey and the Hun School as the Games have taken over Mercer County this week, including competition at Princeton - teams have five Special Olympics athletes on the court at the same time. In the unified division, teams have three Special Olympics athletes and two "partners" on the court.

The partners, of which Erickson was one, are there to facilitate the play, not to dominate it. There is actually an anti-domination rule, one in which the refs stop the game when they see it, even if it's not clearly defined as to what exactly dominating is.

It didn't matter yesterday. None of the partners on any of the teams in any of the games that TigerBlog saw overdid it.

It's not easy for the partners, TigerBlog figures. Should they shoot ever? Dribble fast up the court? Steal the ball from the athletes?

It was clear from the start that Erickson was fully invested in what was going on and what his role was as Oregon defeated South Carolina 23-7. Oregon and South Carolina, by the way, were two of the four teams that Princeton defeated to win the 1975 NIT.

This wasn't about that, even if Erickson's hair would have fit right in back then. TB isn't sure he ever took a shot, but he did do what partners are supposed to do. He kept the ball moving. He set up the athletes. And, more than anything else, he played with a spirit that took over the whole gym.

This was a day for playing with spirit.

It started in the first game, when Louisiana beat Maryland 33-24. Maryland's Nick Krohn, one of the athletes, knocked down a shot and then fist-bumped everyone on the Louisiana bench. It wasn't the only time that fist-bumping broke out among competitors, and even the refs got involved.

TigerBlog was there in the role of public address announcer, and he worked at the scorer's table with about six or seven others. Several times athletes would come by and fist-bump (interestingly, there was little high-fiving) with all of the people working.

Erickson had never been to the Northeast before he flew to New Jersey Saturday. The word he used to describe this part of the country is "big."

The best game of the day was Arizona vs. New Jersey, as the visitors from the West came back and beat the home team by two. Washington, DC, had a nice win over Washington in another close game. TigerBlog thinks Louisiana was the best team he saw.

The Oregon team is the youngest in the field, made up of high school-age players. Erickson got involved with Special Olympics through his mother, who worked in Special Ed at his high school.

And through another family that was close with his own. The Knight family.

Erickson described Dony Knight as his "brother," even if they aren't actually related. And there they were yesterday, after the game, in a hug, Dony the athlete and Lucas the partner.

It was the kind of hug teammates often have after a nice win to start a tournament. It wasn't a wild celebration. It was just a recognition that Game 1 had gone well and was in the bank.

Dony had knocked down a basket in the game. Maybe more than one.

So did Alex Hoppe. Alex in this case is a female, as the teams in this division could be co-ed, though not all were. Alex appreciated, among other things, that TigerBlog pronounced her name correctly - "Hoppy."

Special Olympics is about spirit, and the triumph of that spirit. It's also about competing.

The athletes have wildly different levels of athletic ability - and general physical coordination. They all loved being out there yesterday, playing on a Division I basketball court, "like playing at a real college," as one player said.

The event going on in Mercer County is a massive effort, one that had to require ridiculous amounts of planning and coordination. And thousands of volunteers. Rider was jammed with them yesterday, all there at 6:30 a.m., none of them making a penny.

Princeton Athletics is well-represented. The volleyball matches are being played next door to basketball at Rider, and TigerBlog saw Princeton's two head coaches - Sabrina King and Sam Shweisky - as well as Mary Beth Dittrich from campus rec and Carolyn Cooper from the Princeton Varsity Club, all before 6:30.

TigerBlog volunteered to see it up close himself. He has plenty of time this week left to continue to do so, with events continuing throughout the county. In addition to basketball, TigerBlog will be at flag football at Lawrenceville Prep.

Mostly what he saw yesterday was joy. On the part of the athletes. The coaches. The partners. The volunteers.

It was real joy, legitimate joy, at being part of what was going on.

TigerBlog couldn't help but think of what it took for the athletes to reach this point, what they had to go through physically and mentally to get there. And what it was like for their families.

After he left Rider, TigerBlog took Miss TigerBlog to her Monday night field hockey league. This was a league of middle school athletes, not that much younger than Alex Hoppe.

It would be too trite for TB to say that he would no longer take for granted the ease with which MTB and her teammates can play sports and that what TB saw all day at Rider puts other sports - like Princeton's or his own children's - into a different perspective. That wasn't really the case anyway.

It was more a feeling that TB had about sports in general.

People play them for a lot of reasons, but No. 1 has to be because they love to play. Whoever it is. Whatever is at stake.

If the athletes don't love to play, what's the point? A scholarship? A big pro contract? Those don't happen for most athletes, and the ones who do get to the point could never get there if they didn't love it.

And for the overwhelming numbers of others who play? It's because it's what they want to be doing.

And that's what yesterday was all about. On the surface, the juxtaposition between the middle school field hockey girls and the Special Olympics basketball athletes might seem glaring, but it really wasn't.

It was just athletes doing what they loved doing.

That's the whole point.

So go watch the Special Olympics if you're in the neighborhood. You'll be glad you did.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Meeting Fred, And Stephanie

TigerBlog was in Baltimore over the weekend.

In an extraordinary upset, the weather was perfect, as opposed to what it normally is in Baltimore, which is hot and sticky.

The big issue among the group of people TB was there with was how to get back and whether or not it would be better to go up 95 or to take 83 to York and then go over Lancaster and the Pennsylvania Turnpike. TB's friend Todd chose to go up 95 and got slammed in traffic; TB went the other way and made it in more than an hour less than Todd.

Back on Saturday, Todd was faced with a similarly tough decision. Should he get ice cream or frozen yogurt?

TigerBlog's has two theories on this. First, he thinks frozen yogurt has as much fat as ice cream and is all a marketing ploy. Second, even if it doesn't, he thinks that if you're going to do it, you might as well do it right and go with ice cream.

Todd chose frozen yogurt and got what looked very much like a typical ice cream sundae. The frozen yogurt place was on the next corner of York Road from an ice cream place. TB went to the ice cream place and got a small cookies and cream, nothing fancy.

It was at the ice cream place, though, that TigerBlog met Fred.

Who is Fred? The coolest dog in Baltimore, and possibly on the planet. He might even be cooler than Snoopy, and Snoopy can fly a plane and play shortstop, despite not having fingers. He might be cooler than Underdog, who fights crime and can fly.

TigerBlog was standing outside the ice cream place when Todd came back with his "sundae," and the two noticed a motorcycle and sidecar parked in the parking lot. It's not something that TB sees too often.

The owner of the vehicle came by with his dog, who turned out to be named Fred. The owner, whose name TB never got, put the dog in the sidecar, put the seatbelt/harness on him, and then put Fred's sunglasses on him.

And then Fred peered out at the world from behind his shades.

The average dog would not have allowed the sunglasses to be put on in the first place, let alone kept them on, let alone looked completely comfortable - and ridiculously cool - with them on. Fred? He was loving the moment.

It was like he knew all eyes were on him. In fact, TB asked if he could take Fred's picture, and the owner said sure. Fred knew the camera was on him.

If TigerBlog was impressed by Fred, imagine what the average girl french poodle thinks when Fred goes whirring by in his sidecar. She must positively melt.

Anyway, if you're in Baltimore and see a dog in a sidecar, you'll know you've met Fred.

Meanwhile, back in the ice cream place, TigerBlog saw a young family, consisting of a husband, wife and toddler who was being held by the father. TB was wearing his orange Princeton Athletics t-shirt and a Princeton football dri-fit longsleeve shirt over it, which made him a walking advertising for the University.

As it turns out, the husband and wife were both alums. Class of 2004.

They asked TigerBlog about his shirt and if he had a connection to Princeton, and TB explained that he works there. The husband mentioned that they had just been there for their 10th Reunion.

TB asked if they were athletes, and the husband said his wife was a swimmer. Her name was Stephanie, and her maiden name had been Wright.

TigerBlog looked her up and found that she lettered four times. Not that he didn't believe them or anything - though it's happened numerous times that people have fabricated such things.

In fact, one of TB's favorite stories in his time at Princeton is from when he got a call from a young woman who said she had met a young man in a bar the night before who had told her that he was an All-America fencer with the Tigers. She gave TB his name, and TB looked it up. Turns out he wasn't being truthful.

Though TB has always assumed that she never went out with him after that, TB did admire the suitor's attempt. If he had said he was an All-America in football or something like that, it would have been too easy to check out his story. Picking fencing was genius, and in the pre-internet days, it took a really thorough investigation to catch him.

As for Stephanie Wright, she was a part of four Ivy League championships in women's swimming and diving. In fact, she was a member of one of four different classes at Princeton that can make that claim: 1981, 1982, 2003 and 2004.

After the young family went one way, Fred went another way and TB went his own way, TB did think back about his chance meeting with the alums.

TB has often heard talk of how the athletes are at Princeton for four years and make friendships that last 40 or more years. It makes it seem like there are current students and alums in their 60s and 70s and older and really nothing in between.

In reality, the life lessons that intercollegiate athletics teach apply much more to people in Stephanie Wright's age range, especially people who are 10 years out of Princeton, raising young families, moving forward in careers, trying to balance both, trying to figure it all out as they move from recent grads to can't-fight-it-anymore adults.

Anyway, it was a pretty good weekend in Baltimore, including the random encounter with a certain cool dog and certain young family.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Let The Games Begin

Unless TigerBlog is reading the schedule wrong - something that is a distinct possibility - then Princeton does not have anyone competing today at the NCAA track and field championships.

Princeton does have a Roper Trophy from each of the last two years who will compete tomorrow,  though only one in orange and black. Damon McLean goes after another All-America honor in the triple jump, and Peter Callahan - part of the 2013 NCAA indoor distance medley relay championship team - will run in the 1,500 final for New Mexico, where he is in grad school and where he is using his final year of eligibility.

So far, it's been a relatively successful few days in Oregon for the Tigers. Actually, way more than relatively, as in one national champion and three other All-Americas to this point.

With the end of the NCAA championships tomorrow, the final athletic events of the 2013-14 academic year will be over. It'll be a long wait until the first ones of 2014-15, with soccer, field hockey and women's volleyball on Sept 5, TB believes.

Of course, there will be a new Ford Family Director of Athletics the next time Princeton plays. By then, Mollie Marcoux will be the boss.

The change at the top will be the big story for Princeton Athletics in 2013-14. The on-field highlights will include the Ivy League football championship (not to mention the record-setting offense that helped make it possible) and the Ivy women's tennis championship (and win over Arizona State in the first round of the NCAA tournament almost unfathomable near-miss against Alabama in the second round).

When the story of 2013-14 is told, though, Julia Ratcliffe's name will be all over it.

At Jadwin Gym yesterday, Ratcliffe's NCAA hammer throw championship was the big topic of conversation. It wasn't simply in the context of how she won and became Princeton's first women's track and field NCAA champion, and this from a program that has had multiple Olympians.

It's that she did so with the knowledge that if she didn't win, then a 42-year-old streak would not have turned 43.

Maybe she didn't really have that streak - Princeton's streak of having at least one team or individual national champion - on her mind at all. TigerBlog has no idea. What he does know is that this was asking a lot of Ratcliffe, a sophomore. And she came through in a big way.

TigerBlog spoke about Ratcliffe yesterday, and it led to this comment:
Does the NCAA track this streak? If so, where does it rank overall when compared to other schools' streaks?

It's a pretty good question. TB isn't sure of anyone who tracks this sort of thing, but hey, 43 years is a long, long time for something like this.

Anyway, even with the end of the track and field championships, there will still be intense athletic competition at Princeton in the very near future.

Everywhere on campus and throughout Mercer County are signs of what is to come next week, as Special Olympics USA Games come to the area (according to the organization, the word "the" should be used as little as possible before "Special Olympics").

There will be events all over the county, including at Princeton University. It's been a great deal of work for, among others, Karen Malec and Greg Paczkowski of the Department of Athletics.

There will also be an army of volunteers from the University and from elsewhere, all working long hours to make the Games the best they can be and to give those who are competing and coaching the best experience possible.

TigerBlog will be one of the volunteers.

To be honest, he has no idea what to expect. His role is as a public address announcer, and he will be working at events at Rider and at Lawrenceville Prep.

He's definitely looking forward to it. He's heard nothing but great things from people about Special Olympics, and those who have volunteered talk about it as a wildly inspirational event.

TigerBlog will get a first-hand look beginning Monday.

Princeton Athletics will have ended by then for 2013-14.

Athletics at Princeton will continue, with a new group of athletes who are currently flocking to Mercer County, ready to have their own moment in the sun.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

43, Courtesy Of Julia Ratcliffe

The number 42 has been retired across all sports at Princeton University.

This was done a few years ago to honor two former Tiger athletes, Bill Bradley and Dick Kazmaier, both of whom wore the number during their time at Princeton. Bradley and Kazmaier, along with Hobey Baker, are probably the three greatest athletes in school history.

Baker's number isn't retired in either football or hockey, largely because numbers weren't worn yet when he played. At least they weren't in football. TigerBlog is positive of that. He assumes they weren't in hockey either, since he figures he would have seen something by now of a number that Baker had worn.

The number 42 almost got retired again at Princeton this year, only not in the way that anyone associated with the athletic program wanted.

Headed into the 2013-14 academic year, Princeton Athletics had produced at least one team or individual national champion for 42 consecutive years. Headed into the final event of the academic year - the NCAA track and field championships in Eugene, Ore. - Princeton had not yet stretched that streak another year.

Then the women's hammer throw began, and Julia Ratcliffe took over. And when she was done, the sophomore had put up some important numbers, including:

219-5 (or 66.88 if you prefer).

And of course, 43.

What do those numbers stand for?

Ratcliffe threw the hammer 219-5 feet (that's 66.88 meters) to win the championship.

Each competitor gets three throws to start out with, and the top nine in each of two flights get three more after that. After each has gotten a total of six throws, the longest distance of any of those six throws is the winning one, even if it came in the first round.

The number three in this case doesn't stand for three throws. Nope. It stands for the fact that Ratcliffe had the top three throws in the competition. Among her six. Her first throw wasn't her best, and she'd already clinched it after everyone else had gone six times and she hadn't yet thrown her last one. And even with that, she still managed the best three.

And the No. 1? Princeton had never had an individual NCAA champion in women's track and field. The closest was in 2002, when Lauren Simmons was second in the 800.

That all changed yesterday in Oregon, where Ratcliffe simply dominated. And now she's the first NCAA women's track and field champion in program history.

TigerBlog remembers when Ratcliffe first arrived in Princeton. She had just gotten off the plane from her native New Zealand and had found her way to Jadwin Gym, a bit tired and a bit wide-eyed and probably a whole lot nervous about what she'd gotten herself into.

She stopped in TigerBlog's office asking where the track and field office was, and the answer, as it turns out, was actually this: "about 10% of the distance she can throw the hammer."

Peter Farrell, the only women's track and field head coach Princeton has ever had, came down a few minutes later to talk about how special Ratcliffe was and how limitless her potential was. It reminded TB of the time another Princeton head coach, then-men's squash head coach Bob Callahan, came in and talked that way about another incoming freshman just off the plane from far away, Yasser El Halaby, who won four individual championships during his time at Princeton.

Julia will not win four championships. That vanished last year, when she finished 11th in her first trip to the NCAA championships. She fouled twice and had one disappointing throw.

It wasn't what she had been expecting. What word would best sum it up? She, well, er, well, let her tell you what word she'd use. She "bombed," as she says in the video on after her win yesterday.

TigerBlog knows that Ratcliffe was aware of the long streak of national championship wins that she was trying to extend. He wonders how much pressure, if any, that added to the task she had of trying to win the program's first NCAA title.

It doesn't matter now though. If there was extra pressure, it didn't show, or she thrived on it, or she was just too good for the field.

The only drama came when Colorado's Emily Hunsucker took her sixth throw, and for awhile, it looked like it might have been in the same neighborhood as Ratcliffe's best efforts. Ultimately, it fell more than two meters short.

Julia Ratcliffe was the NCAA hammer throw champion.

She comes across in the video as she does in real life, as friendly, happy and humble. TigerBlog loved this quote from her:
“I’m just so thankful to the people who helped me out get here; my coach, my dad, my family and the Princeton team,. But I’m also really proud of myself because last year I kind of bombed so to come back and win….it just feels so good.”

And then it was over. Ratcliffe had her trophy and flowers.

And Princeton's streak lives on.

The streak, which dates to when Richard Nixon was President of the United States and Ken Fairman was the Director of Athletics at Princeton, has come down to the wire before, most recently in 2010, when the men's lightweight rowing team won to keep it going. Before that it was 1995, when women's open rowing did so.

Those were a little different than what happened yesterday. For starters, Princeton has always been a formidable rowing power. For another, that was a team event, not the pressure on one individual.

As it turned out, Princeton's streak had nothing to worry about.

Thanks to Julia Ratcliffe, its at 43 ... and counting.

Don't believe Princeton has actually done this for 43 straight academic years? Here's the year-by-year recap:

2014 - Julia Ratcliffe (women's hammer throw)
2013 - field hockey, Eliza Stone (women's sabre fencing), Peter Callahan/Russell Dinkins/Austin Hollimon/Michael Williams (men's indoor track and field distance medley relay), combined team fencing
2012 - men's squash, Donn Cabral (3,000 meter steeplechase)
2011 - Todd Harrity (squash), women's open rowing (1st varsity 8)
2010 – men’s lightweight rowing
2009 – men’s lightweight rowing, women’s squash
2008 – women’s squash
2007 – women’s squash
2006 – women’s open rowing (1st varsity 8), Yasser El Halaby (squash),
2005 – Yasser El Halaby (squash)
2004 – Yasser El Halaby (squash)
2003 – women’s lightweight rowing, women’s lacrosse, Yasser El Halaby (squash)
2002 – women’s lightweight rowing, women’s lacrosse, Tora Harris (indoor and outdoor high jump)
2001 – women’s lightweight rowing, men’s lacrosse, Soren Thompson (epee fencing), David Yik (men’s squash
2000 – women’s lightweight rowing, Eva Petchnigg (foil fencing), Julia Beaver (women’s squash), Peter Yik (men’s squash
1999 – women’s squash, women’s lightweight rowing, Julia Beaver (women’s squash), Peter Yik (men’s squash)
1998 – men’s lacrosse, men’s heavweight rowing, men’s lightweight rowing, women’s squash
1997 – men’s lacrosse, Katherine Johnson (women’s squash)
1996 – men’s lacrosse, men’s lightweight rowing, men’s heavyweight rowing, Max Pekarev (saber fencing)
1995 – women’s open rowing
1994 – men’s lacrosse, women’s lacrosse, men’s lightweight rowing, women’s open rowing, Harald Winkmann (epee fencing)
1993 – men’s squash, women’s open rowing
1992 – men’s lacrosse
1991 – women’s squash
1990 – women’s open rowing, men’s swimming 200-yard medley relay (Mike Ross, Ty Nelson, Leroy Kim, Erik Osborn)
1989 – men’s lightweight rowing , women’s squash, Demer Holleran (women’s squash), Jeff Stanley (men’s squash), men’s swimming 200-yard medley relay (Mike Ross, Ty Nelson, Rich Korhammer, Rob Musslewhite)
1988 – men’s lightweight rowing, Jeff Stanley (men’s squash)
1987 – Demer Holleran (women’s squash)
1986 – men’s lightweight rowing, Demer Holleran (women’s squash)
1985 – men’s heavyweight rowing
1984 – women’s squash
1983 – women’s squash
1982 – men’s squash
1981 – women’s squash, John Nimik (men’s squash)
1980 – women’s squash
1979 – women’s squash
1978 - women’s squash
1977 – men’s squash
1976 – women’s squash, Nancy Gengler (women’s squash)
1975 – women’s squash, men’s squash, Wendy Zaharko (women’s squash)
1974 – women’s squash, men’s squash, Wendy Zaharko (women’s squash)
1973 – women’s squash, Cathy Corcione (100 butterfly, 100 free), 200-yard freestyle relay (Cathy Corcione, Jane Fremon, Barb Franks, Carol Brown)
1972 – Wendy Zaharko (women’s squash), Charlie Campbell (200-yard backstroke)

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Brian Reilly, University Trustee - And The World Cup

TigerBlog gets emails all the time from the good people of the University communications office.

Mostly these emails announce general Princeton news, like faculty hires, changes in policy and even things like the one he just got this second, about the upcoming University blood drive.

Then there was the one yesterday, the one that announced that there were nine new members of the Board of Trustees.

As is always the case when he gets one of those emails, TigerBlog looked it over to see if there would be any familiar names. And in this case, there most assuredly was.

Brian Reilly was named a Young Alumni Trustee, a four-year position on the Board. Reilly's name was familiar to TB, of course. He was the third brother in his family to play lacrosse at Princeton, after his older brothers Brendan and Connor.

Brian graduated this year after playing mostly as a man-down defensemen his last two years. His time at Princeton was hardly just about lacrosse though. His bio from the story about the new trustees:
Reilly, of McLean, Virginia, graduated this year with a degree in the Wilson School and certificates in Latin American studies, Spanish language and culture, and French language and culture. He participated in Princeton's Bridge Year Program in its inaugural year and was based in Urubamba, Peru. Over consecutive summers, he participated in Princeton's Aix-en-Provence Program for French Studies; conducted research for Princeton's Innovations for Successful Societies; and was a Leadership Development intern for the Truman National Security Project in Washington, D.C. Reilly was a residential college adviser in Rockefeller College; an adviser for the Freshman Scholars Institute; a member of the varsity lacrosse team; a member of Cottage Club; a peer tutor in Spanish and French; and a member of Aquinas Catholic Campus Ministry. After graduation, he will serve as a Princeton in Latin America fellow.

Brian certainly got the most out of his Princeton experience. Now, a little more than a week after a graduation day that was so nice it should have been moved to the beach, that's more of the big picture than simple wins and losses - no matter how many of each of those any individual on any team at any school had.

When Princeton made its trip to Costa Rica in 2012, Reilly - and Oscar Loynaz, another player - were the team's interpreters, as they were both fluent in Spanish.

TigerBlog remembers how effortlessly Reilly interacted with the Costa Ricans, especially the children that the team encountered. He was equal parts mentor, teacher, businessman, politician, social worker, philanthropist - and TB can see him being successful at any of those as he moves forward with in his life.

And hey, he's already a University trustee.

It's hard to believe that it's been exactly two years this week that Princeton was in Costa Rica. It doesn't seem like that much time has passed, but of course it has.

One of the highlights of the trip to Costa Rica for TigerBlog was the night at the World Cup qualifier between Los Ticos and El Salvador. That game ended up in a 2-2 tie, but it didn't stop Costa Rica from advancing out of the opening round and then grabbing one of the three automatic spots given to CONCACAF.

Back then, the 2014 World Cup seemed so far away. And now these two years have passed, and the tournament begins tomorrow in Brazil.

The World Cup has become one of TigerBlog's absolute favorite sporting events. It took him awhile to get on board with what makes much of the rest of the world stop completely in its tracks, though he's hardly missed a game of the last two.

The 2010 World Cup was tailor-made for Princeton fans, what with alum and former men's soccer coach Bob Bradley in charge of the U.S. team. Bradley took the Americans to a dramatic win in the Group stage, only to be eliminated in heart-breaking fashion by Ghana.

This time, the closest Princeton connection to the World Cup team is again with the Bradley name. Michael Bradley, Bob's son and the nephew of Princeton baseball coach Scott Bradley, is one of the top players for the U.S. team, just as he was in 2010.

The U.S. path to the knockout rounds will not be easy, not with a group that has Portugal, Germany and Ghana, of which two will advance. In case you're not up on your FIFA rankings, Germany is No. 2 in the world and Portugal is No. 4.

The U.S. opens against Ghana Monday. Both teams desperately need to win to have any hope of moving on.

Costa Rica, by the way, plays Uruguay in its first game and is in a group that also has Italy and England. That's hardly an easy road to the knockout rounds either.

So who will win? TigerBlog's picks have been borderline awful of late, though he did correctly pick Duke to win the NCAA men's lacrosse tournament.

He doesn't know enough about international soccer. Jim Barlow, the current men's soccer coach, gave him Belgium as a darkhorse pick. Belgium is ranked 11th in the current rankings.

TigerBlog will go with the defending champ, Spain. There have only been two repeat champions in the history of the World Cup - Italy in 1934 and 1938 and Brazil in 1958 and 1962.

Still, TB will go with the Spanish, who also happen to be the top-ranked team in the world. He sees a Spain-Brazil final.

He'd like to see England do well but doesn't envision the English in the semifinals. He will go with Switzerland, not Belgium, as his darkhorse to get that far. His fourth team? How about Portugal.

He's not even sure if the draw can work out that way, but why not.

Anyway, he's pretty excited about another World Cup.

And congratulations to Brian Reilly.

TB can't guarantee his World Cup choices are perfect, but he can say that the choice of Brian Reilly to the Board of Trustees is.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

96 For 187

TigerBlog's car is lacking in frills, which is fine with him.

One thing it does have is one of those built-in cords that connects his iPhone to his car radio, so he can play his music over the speakers in his car, rather than through the phone itself. Of course, it took TB until he'd put nearly 8,000 miles on the car to realize this, so he's mostly been listening to his music through the phone itself, which isn't nearly as high quality.

TigerBlog had to get a new car - well didn't have to, chose to - when TigerBlog Jr. started to drive. TB chose to give his son his old car, which has 170,000 miles on it, and get a new one, which TBJ originally, mistakingly and somewhat hilariously thought was going to go to him.

If you're a parent, then you know that there are three moments in a child's life that really, really make life easier for the mother and/or father.

First, there is getting out of diapers, a huge saver of money and ick-factor.

Then there is the ability to leave the child home alone. At first, this is a highly traumatic and stressful event for the parent, who runs to the store, grabs the first four things on the shelf and then runs home, only to find a completely find 11- or 12- or so year old exactly how the child was left 15 minutes earlier. Gradually that works its way up to a completely stress-free "text me if you need me" situation for the parent.

Lastly, there is driving.

Again, this starts out as highly stressful. TigerBlog isn't sure which is more of a potential problem, leaving a younger teenager home alone or letting an older teenager drive. Still, there is no arguing that a safe teenage driver is a marvelous advancement in parental ease.

To be honest, it takes awhile for a parent to really feel calm when the 16- or 17-year-old heads out in the car. Actually, TB isn't quite there yet, and is probably a few years away from it.

For the amount of running around it cuts down on for the parent, though, it's heavenly.

At first, it's hard for the parent to keep remembering that the child can do simple things, like go for a haircut or pick up a pizza. That's because there are years and years and years of conditioning that stems from constantly driving kids all over creation. And then, just like that, there's a simpler solution.

Hey, Miss TigerBlog was at the mall the other day, and TB simply summoned TBJ to go get her.

Of course, that doesn't always go well, like the time last week when TBJ left MTB stranded outside her school for 30 minutes before he showed up. But all's well that ends well.

Bob Surace, Princeton's head football coach, has two kids, a daughter named Allie and a son named A.J. They are almost, but not quite, to the second parental-ease function of being able to be left alone.

So with school ended but summer camps not yet started, Surace brought both of them to Jadwin with him one day last week. TigerBlog used to do that with his kids as well.

Today Surace came into the OAC holding a t-shirt left over from former Princeton quarterback and current Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett's camp here last weekend. He gave one to Craig Sachson, the OAC's resident Cowboys fan, the t-shirt and then offered one to TB, though he knew that TB, a Giants fan, would not accept it.

There seem to be more random NFL fans who live nowhere near the teams they root for than there are in other sports, and it seems to TB that that has gone on forever. He knows a Newtown (Pa.) police officer/youth lacrosse coach named Paul Deppi who for some reason has been a diehard Seattle Seahawks fan for a few decades, something that finally paid off last season when his beloved team won the Super Bowl. The only problem with that is convincing everyone else that you're not a bandwagon fan.

Most people, though, root for the team geographically close, which is how TB became a Giants fan in the first place. The Cowboys do serve an important function in this area: They give some common ground to Eagles and Giants fans, who can unite in their dislike of Dallas.

Anyway, as Surace was leaving, he pointed to the picture on the top shelf of TB's office, the one of Chris Marquardt as he makes a layup against Loyola Marymount in the final regular season game of 1991. A packed Jadwin Gym - packed like TB has never seen it on any other occasion - looks on in the background.

Surace mentioned that he'd just seen Marquardt at Reunions, and he mentioned that Marquardt's kids looked just like him.

Marquardt - TigerBlog didn't have to look up that he went to Clearwater Central Catholic High in Florida - stands 6-9, but he was much more of a three-point shooter than an inside player. As a senior in 1991, he was among the Division I leaders in three-point percentage, and TB thinks he might have actually been second.

The Division I leader in 1990 was a different Tiger, Matt Lapin, whom Pete Carril nicknamed "Slapper" after an uncharacteristic blocked shot. Lapin shot 53.4% from three-point range in 1990, making 71 of 133.

Surace suggested that Slapper was the all-time leader in three-point percentage at Princeton, but TB thought it was Dave Orlandini. TB also pointed out to Surace that he'd never met Orlandini, something that surprised Surace. TB is pretty sure Orlandini was a South Jersey guy, just like Surace.

Anyway, TB was right about the record. Actually, records.

Orlandini holds both the career and single-season percentage records. And then numbers are ridiculous.

Orlandini, who graduated with John Thompson in 1988, shot 60 for 110 in 1987-88, for a school record 54.5%. For his career - which only included two years with the three-pointer, which wasn't the rule until 1986-87 - he shot 96 for 187, or 51.3%. That's nuts. Go out on the court with nobody else out there and take 187 three-pointers. See how many go in.

TigerBlog leaves you today with this little quiz.

Orlandini is one of two Princeton players with a career three-point percentage of at least 50% and one of six to do so in a single season (obviously he's talking about those who met the minimum number of attempts, not someone who was 3 for 6). Can you name the others? TB gives you a few paragraphs to think about it.

Also, no women's player has ever shot 50% for a career or a single-season. Sandi Bittler holds the record for both, at 46.1% for her career and 47.5% for a single-season.

In the meantime, TB did want to mention about song lyrics and singing along with one's favorite songs.

Even when it's a song that someone has heard a billion times (like TB with the Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band song "Backstreets), there can be a line or two where the lyrics have never been clear. In that case, the person doing the singing in the car does one of three things.

First, there is simply getting the lyrics wrong. Second, there is singing really loudly up until the line where the song lyric isn't clear and then skipping that line. Third, there is singing really loudly up until the line of the uncertain lyric and then singing something close to the words (even if they aren't really words but just sounds that closely mirror the actual words) really, really softly.

Anyway, enough about that. Here's the answer:

For his career, Orlandini was .513 (96 for 187). Tim Neff was second at .512 (65 for 127), in the same years as Orlandini.

For a single season, this is the list:
1. Orlandini .545 (60 for 110, 1987-88)
2. Lapin .534 (71 for 133, 1989-90)
3. Neff .5164 (63 for 122, 1987-88)
4. Will Barrett .5161 (48 for 93, 2012-13)
5. Marcus Schroder .512 (22 for 43, 2008-09)
6. Matt Henshon .500 (20 for 40, 1990-91)
And that's it for today ...