Friday, November 4, 2016

Thanks, Francisco

The last time TigerBlog saw Francisco, the tour guide for the Princeton men's lacrosse team during the current trip to Portugal, he was doing something that TB wouldn't have guessed he could.

He was making assistant coach Jesse Bernhardt look foolish at ping pong.

There's a table it the basement of Princeton's hotel outside of Lisbon, in a game room that connects the stairs and elevator to the room where the Tigers eat. It was after dinner last night that Jesse and his girlfriend Erin started to play, when Francisco jumped in and grabbed the paddle.

When he served, Jesse couldn't return it. Not because of the power. Because of the spin. Francisco was like a magician on his serves. They would bounce and take off in some random direction at some random speed.

Who would have guessed that about Francisco?

A few hours earlier, Francisco was being interviewed, as it were, by Jesse and fellow assistant coach Justin Tuma. Francisco had just seen his first lacrosse game, Princeton's 15-5 win over the English national team, and now the two coaches were asking him about it.

Eventually, Francisco pointed out what every first time observer of the sport says. He couldn't believe how much they whack each other with their sticks.

If you haven't seen the interview, it's on Princeton men's lacrosse Instagram and Twitter. It's definitely worth checking out.  

It was all in good fun. So was the ping pong. So is everything about Francisco.

To pull off a trip like the one Princeton is currently on, you need someone who can keep everyone organized and on schedule and most importantly who can read his audience. You need someone who laughs and makes the group laugh. You need someone who can teach you about the country without making it seem like you're in a classroom.

Francisco is great at all of that.

He's low-key. Nothing seems to bother him. He's just a nice guy.

When Princeton was at the field for the game yesterday, Francisco asked how many chairs he needed to get for the makeshift scorer's area. When TB offered to help, Francisco simply shrugged and said he was on top of it. Then he came back carrying five plastic chairs at one time.

More than the organizational piece, you need someone who has a genuine love for the country and who wants to share that with the strangers who have never been here before and may never be back after this week. TigerBlog had that with the guide in Costa Rica four years ago, a man named Diego, who was largely responsible for why TB had such a great experience there.

Francisco is different than Diego. For every 100 words Diego said, Francisco says maybe one. Diego narrated Costa Rica to the group. Francisco is the Portugese cousin who has his large family in town for a week and is showing them around.

He rarely speaks into the microphone on the bus, and when he does it's usually to make fun of someone or something. He's figured out the personalities on the team quickly. He had an instant rapport with head coach Matt Madalon, and the two of them work together seamlessly.

Francisco is 31. He grew up not far from where the team is staying. He is a season ticket holder for one of the soccer teams in the Portugese first division, though TB doesn't remember which one. He speaks five languages and toggles back and forth between English and Portugese like it's nothing. Actually, Portugese is an interesting language. TigerBlog expected it to sound like Spanish, but it sounds more like Italian or even Russian than anything else.

As for Francisco, he has made a real difference in this trip, in ways you can't see and ways you can. It's been great to see him embrace a sport like lacrosse that he had never seen before, and the group of lacrosse players who have wandered into his world.

Francisco does this all the time. It's his job. TigerBlog has the sense that the tour guide will miss this group a little more than the others, though maybe that's just the sign of a great tour guide, that he leaves you with that sense.

Princeton has two more games against the English, this morning and Sunday morning before the flight home.
Meanwhile, because there is more going on in the sporting world than just Princeton's trip to Portugal (by the way, nobody here seemed interested in the World Series), TigerBlog would like to mention two events this weekend involving Princeton teams.

The first is the women's volleyball match tonight in New Haven against Yale. Should Princeton win that match, it would clinch at least a tie for the Ivy League championship with three matches left. Should Yale win, Princeton's lead over the Bulldogs would shrink to one match with those same three to play.

The other event is the football game tomorrow at home against Penn.

Right now the Tigers are 3-1, one game back of both Penn and Harvard, who are both 4-0 and who play next week in Cambridge. The Ivy League race changes in a major way depending on who wins the game tomorrow at Princeton (kickoff is at 1).

TigerBlog hasn't asked Francisco about American football yet. He's running out of time to do so.

TigerBlog told Coach Madalon that at the end of a trip like this, you want to know that you have a good feel for what the country is all about. TB will leave Portugal in two days knowing that he has had that, and grateful for what Francisco did to make that happen.

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