Four Princeton graduates who are currently playing Major League Baseball answered questions regarding their careers and their times at the University in an open forum on campus Tuesday night.
The panelists included Chris Young ’02, Will Venable ’05, Ross Ohlendorf ’05 and David Hale ’11. Hale currently plays for the Atlanta Braves, Young and Ohlendorf play for the Washington Nationals and Venable plays for the San Diego Padres.
“I just admire them for all they’ve done and the way they represent Princeton,” Director of Athletics Gary Walters ’67 said when introducing the speakers. He added that these players prove that it is possible to pursue an athletic career after gaining a degree from the University. “Just because you come to the Ivy League, just because you come to Princeton, you don’t have to give up on your athletic dreams,” he continued. “You don’t have to give up on the pursuit of excellence.”
Head baseball coach Scott Bradley added that he is so proud to watch the men play on television and that he feels like he is “watching my own kids play.”
The players were very complimentary of the University’s athletic program. They reiterated that teammates who played for other colleges felt like they were full-time athletes, but that Princeton gives student-athletes the opportunity to play while giving them the time and resources to be a student as well. Even the two-sport athletes — Young and Venable, who played both baseball and basketball — said that they were able to achieve a good balance during their time at the University.
Joining a professional baseball team after graduating from Princeton has been an interesting experience, the players said. They said they are often called out for coming to the big leagues from Princeton and are sometimes asked to settle arguments or debates since other players often believe anything they say given where they got their degrees.
Despite having a higher degree than many players, they each felt just like any other player on the team. After dreaming of playing Major League Baseball and watching the game for so long, they each detailed how incredible it felt once they made it into the rosters, fields and clubhouses of the major leagues.
“These are people that you idolized as a child, and all of a sudden you’re standing amongst them,” Young said, recalling the time Barry Bonds hit a home run off of one of his pitches.
Likewise, Hale recollected the first time he stood on Wrigley Field, remembering stories his grandfather had told him about watching baseball games at that field and feeling like he had made it.
In response to a question from Walters about whether they had experienced “education through athletics” during their time at Princeton, each panelist agreed that he had.
“My education here really prepared me for professional baseball,” Ohlendorf said. “I think just with the idea of being able to learn from athletics, I’ve learned a lot about myself — about learning from failures, about what kind of mind frame I need to be in to perform in at a high level.”
“To put it simply, baseball and being a professional athlete is really, really hard and graduating from Princeton was really, really hard,” Venable added, later adding that having a Princeton degree helps when baseball is over.
The speakers continued to talk about how they got drafted, the hardest players they have had to play against and difficult games, but the lessons they learned at Princeton kept coming back.
“In all facets — the preparation, dedication, discipline, responsibility and, certainly, business affairs — there’s no doubt that my education has prepared me for all of that,” said Young.
The Jake McCandless ’51 Princeton Varsity Club Speaker Series sponsored the event, titled “Tigers in the Big Leagues.” It was held in a crowded McCosh 50 at 7:30 p.m.