In his first season in 2019, Nadir Lewis ’23 started every game in center field for the Tigers, batting .266 and leading the team in runs, walks, and stolen bases. He started every game again in 2020 — but there were only seven to be played before the season was cancelled.
At the end of this past summer, Lewis decided to take a gap year to better himself as a player and student.
Lewis remembered how he and the rest of the baseball team found out that the Ivy League had cancelled the spring season — through a tweet.
“It was pretty heartbreaking,” he said. “We didn’t know if it was legit. But obviously, there had been talks about COVID, and how things were getting worse and worse — numbers getting higher — and they might have to stop.”
At that point, Lewis and the team had just finished a series against Ole Miss and were about to embark on their spring break trip, where they would have played several teams in Virginia. That all changed when the COVID-19 situation began to escalate.
“You have no certainty or insight on what’s going to happen, when everything will be okay,” Lewis said. “All you know is you played seven games and the season is over.”
But the team banded together when the season was cancelled.
“We’ve got to go through it together. It opens your eyes — it opens your eyes to a lot of things. Some things you can’t control. And that’s how life is going to be.”
He added, “You do what you can. You put forth the effort, you put forth passion, and somethings you just can’t control.”
After the baseball season ended prematurely in the spring, Lewis intended throughout the summer to enroll for his junior year. But when the decision was published that no one would be invited back to campus, he decided to take a leave of absence.
His decision was due to both academics and athletics. Academically, Lewis’s major — electrical engineering — is difficult to study remotely.
“I didn’t want to try and take classes online because it didn’t go the best for me in the spring,” he said.
And athletically, he didn’t want to lose a year of eligibility at Princeton: Ivy League schools only allow students to have four years of eligibility at one university. In other words, if Lewis came to campus and could not play baseball in the spring due to COVID-19, he would not be allowed to, say, take a fifth year and play out his fourth year of eligibility at Princeton. Instead, he would have to transfer.
“I talked to my teammates,” Lewis explained, “and I was like, ‘I think I’m going to take this year off’ — and a couple of my teammates took this year off too — ‘and we’ll just come back the following year.’”
But for Lewis, this isn’t simply a year off to retain all his years of eligibility. A year off, to him, is an opportunity to get better.
Choosing to take his gap year so soon before the semester, Lewis didn’t have a chance to apply for internships or job opportunities like other students on leaves of absence. Instead, he is spending his time rehashing what he has learned in classes up to this point.
“I’ve been trying to reinforce the stuff I’ve learned in major-specific courses,” he said. “I’ve tried to relearn that and make sure I have a good foundation to continue — because a year off is a long time.”
Lewis intends to take more classes in the spring. He wants to “stay on track with [his] credits, even maybe try to get ahead.”
Because, as an athlete on leave and per University rules, he cannot correspond directly with the team for training or player development, Lewis has been working multiple times a week on individual training at home in Alpharetta, Ga. Lewis trains at Rapid Sports Performance, where more than a dozen Major League players have trained, including four-time All-Star and 2017 National League batting champion Charlie Blackmon.
But still, he finds it difficult to train away from the rest of the team. Being away from his college-level teammates, it’s difficult to get a lot of college-level repetition.
“I don't have other college players to practice with or play with,” he said. “I do a lot of individual work with the machine, [because] there's not a lot of people around.”
“It’s definitely been harder [to train],” he added. “I haven’t seen pitching that’s at the level that I’ve been seeing at the college level. It’s hard to come by.”
Lewis explained that what it takes to excel at baseball — especially playing the outfield — is to repeat the same play over and over again, in slightly different circumstances. In his 2019 season playing center field, Lewis made 99 put-outs, one assist, and one error out of the 101 total fielding chances. The goal is to make the same play 99 times, just as easily as the first time.
“Baseball is all about repetition,” Lewis said.
So Lewis has been trying to get in as much repetition as possible by himself.
When asked if he regretted his decision to take a gap year, Lewis responded quickly.
“I would say at the start of the fall semester, I had some regrets,” he said. “As this year has been progressing, certain events have just reassured me that I made the right decision to take this year off and just come back in the fall of 2021.”
Now, Lewis views his gap year as an opportunity to improve.
“I’m trying to take the time to get better, to advance myself as a player,” he said.