Keeping the Tiger team intact

When your season is unexpectedly cut short by a pandemic, what’s a college coach to do?

At Princeton, Scott Bradley has turned to virtual tools to keep coaching. Through the university’s athletic fellows program, I’ve had a glimpse of how the head coach and his assistants have managed to keep the team together and inspire the players.

Once a week, Coach Bradley gathers the entire team, his staff and as many of us fellows as are available for a meeting over the Zoom videoconferencing service. Bradley, who played in the big leagues from 1984-1992, has brought in a lineup of terrific baseball people as guest speakers each week since the Ivy League season was canceled.

Joe Torre talks to the Tigers

In recent weeks I’ve been blown away to hear insights from:

  • Will Venable, a Princeton alumnus who spent most of his pro career with the San Diego Padres and is now a coach for the Chicago Cubs
  • Dave Roberts, manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers and a former player with the Cleveland Indians, Dodgers, Boston Red Sox, Padres and San Francisco Giants.
  • Joe Torre, who played for the Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves, St. Louis Cardinals and New York Mets and managed the Mets, Braves, Cards, New York Yankees and Dodgers.
  • Chris Young, a Princeton alum who pitched for the Texas Rangers, Padres, Mets, Seattle Mariners and Kansas City Royals. He’s now a senior vice president for Major League Baseball.

These veterans of the game are giving members of the team a sort of virtual master’s degree in baseball life. In these private meetings, the former players have discussed the evolution of their lives and careers, noting the chemistry that separates the championship teams from the pack and what leadership looks like on the field and in the clubhouse.

I was most knocked over by hearing Torre discuss his life in baseball, from when his older brother Frank introduced him to Braves teammate Henry Aaron to leading Major League Baseball operations over the past decade.

Coach Bradley, who still participates in Yankees’ old-timer games, made a point of noting that noting that long before Torre was the Bronx Bombers’ manager, he was one heck of a player. Most of my memories of Torre (think torrid hitting!) are from his years playing with the Braves and Cardinals and, respectively, batting against and catching for Bob Gibson.

These full-team gatherings are just one of the ways that Coach Bradley and his staff stay in touch with the Tiger players each week. The coaches show remarkable dedication to teaching and leading these young men, some of whom may follow Venable and Young from the Ivy League into the big leagues. All of them will have learned valuable lessons about baseball and life from the coaches and the great guests Coach Bradley has invited.

That’s a winning season.

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