Like typical freshmen, Andrew Hanson, Casey Hildreth and Max Krance entered college with anticipatory doubts about what they would find. In a year filled with new and different experiences, however, the trio was confident about one thing: they would be playing baseball.
What they found when they arrived on campus was a new coaching staff that boasted both knowledge and experience. Head coach Scott Bradley played nine seasons in the major leagues. Assistant Mark Gola has written an acclaimed book on hitting, while assistants Tom Crowley and Matt Golden '94 have also played professional ball in independent and minor leagues.
"When I decided to come here," Hanson said, "I didn't know there would be would be so much expertise on the coaching staff. It has definitely been an added bonus."
This season ushers in a new wave of Princeton baseball, and these freshmen add more than a ripple to the increasing momentum. Tom O'Connell, the former head coach of 16 years, left after last season, taking his strong-fisted style with him. This cleared the way for the more laid-back approach of Bradley, whose overwhelming love of the game dominates his outlook.
"(Bradley's) not really a yeller," Krance said, "which is good, because I don't really respond to that. He plays more on the disappointment thing. He only tells you things once, and if you don't do it, you're in trouble."
Bradley's style focuses more on basics and having fun. It is the only method of coaching the freshmen have seen at the college level, a fact the veterans of the team are not afraid to point out.
"From all the stories I've heard, it seems (the difference from last season) is like night and day," Hildreth said. "The seniors poke fun at us for not having lived though (the old style)."
The freshmen embody this new outlook, and since they are the future of the team, this bodes well for years to come.
"It's a lot of fun, almost like being a minor league player on the weekends," Hildreth said. "It's nice to play while you still can; I may not get a chance to do this for the rest of my life."
Halfway into the season, these three freshmen are not only having fun, but are also playing exceptional baseball. They have won spots in the starting lineup in their first year, filling platoon positions with Hildreth at catcher, Hanson at right field and designated hitter, and Krance in the outfield. Hanson and Krance face all right-handed pitching, while Hildreth splits games with sophomore catcher Buster Small.
Leaders of the pack
But playing time is not the most impressive statistic; the trio is currently leading the offense of an already strong offensive team. Krance's .417 batting average leads the team, while Hanson and Hildreth follow closely behind at .414 and .379, respectively. In addition, each has a home run and they have combined for 22 RBI. And all this after none of them expected to earn a starting spot immediately.
"I expected to be on the team," Hildreth said, "but I didn't expect to come in and play."
Nonetheless, these three freshmen have taken a hold of the team and Bradley's new outlook. They are enjoying the game they love and performing at a level higher than anyone, including themselves, anticipated under the guidance of an experienced rookie coaching staff. And the team is playing better than ever.
"I had no idea the coaching staff would be so good," Krance said. "It's been a pleasant surprise. I love it. (The season's been) a great, great experience."