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Vol. LXII, No. 29
 
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
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(Photo courtesy of Portland Beavers)

EAGER BEAVER: Former Princeton University two-sport athlete Will Venable takes a cut in recent action for the Portland Beavers, the Triple-A affiliate for the San Diego Padres. Venable, a 2005 Princeton alum who earned All-Ivy League honors in both baseball and basketball, is currently leading the Beavers in hitting (.317), homers (nine) and RBIs (49).

Former PU Two-Sport Standout Venable A Step Away From Major League Dream

Jon Solomon

It is a rare lazy afternoon for minor league baseball star Will Venable.

The 2005 Princeton University graduate is relaxing by the pool in Portland, Ore., enjoying his first off day in three weeks.

Venable, 25, has just returned home from Tacoma, Wash. with the Triple-A Portland Beavers. 

In his first season in the Pacific Coast League playing for the San Diego Padres’ top affiliate, Venable, a baseball and basketball standout at Princeton, is leading the Beavers in hitting (.317), homers (nine) and RBIs (49) through 77 games.

From the time he came off the disabled list on April 28, the anthropology major has been on a tear, hitting safely in 25 of his last 29 games.

“Now being healthy, it is nice to get into a little groove and be able to be in a position to make some nice adjustments,” said Venable, who is in his fourth season in the minors.

Venable’s left shoulder is no longer troubling him and he is back in center field after a stint as the team’s designated hitter.

“I got with the pitching coach to work on some mechanics and my arm is probably the best it has ever been,” admitted the 6’2, 205-pound Venable.

Since being selected in the seventh round of the 2005 First-Year Player Draft as a senior at Princeton, Venable’s road since graduation has taken him all around the globe — from the Tigers to the Arizona Fall League to Eugene, Ore., to Fort Wayne, Ind., to the Hawaii Winter Baseball League to San Antonio and even to China earlier this year for two exhibition games against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

As Venable has risen through the ranks of the Padres’ farm system, his father Max has often been by his side. Max Venable played 12 seasons in the major leagues from 1979-1991 for the San Francisco Giants, Montreal Expos, Cincinnati Reds, and California Angels.

The Venables were first paired in 2006 with Single-A Fort Wayne, where Max was a coach and Will was named Padres’ Minor League Player of the Year at the end of the season.

Now the father and son have been reunited in Oregon two seasons later, with the elder Venable serving as the Beavers’ hitting coach.

“It is unbelievable; I feel so fortunate just to be here in Triple-A,” said the younger Venable.

“To think of how far I have come in baseball and how lucky it is to get paid to play a game and then on top of that to add my dad into the mix and I get to hang out and learn from him. He’s not only my dad, he spent 12 years in the big leagues, so he’s an unbelievable resource and I can’t even put into words how fortunate I am to have him around.”

The versatile Venable, who was an All-Ivy selection in both basketball and baseball his senior year at Princeton, has not picked up a basketball in a while as he has focused on the sport that has him on the brink of the major leagues.

“I shot free throws three weeks ago in our workout gym, but quickly got interrupted by our strength guy,” Venable confessed.

“I guess we’re not allowed to shoot hoops when we’re working out. Those occurrences are few and far between.”

As Venable continues to put up impressive offensive numbers with Portland, he tries to focus on making improvements in his game, quickly listing off several facets he needs to develop.

“Strength and discipline; making sure that I’m swinging at good pitches,” said Venable.

“Obviously, I need to develop some more power, which there’s not a whole lot you can do. It either happens or not. My arm strength, which is something that is coming along. I think we’re headed in the right direction.”

Besides his father, Venable has had several other resources to draw from as he has risen through the minors, starting with his Princeton head coach, Scott Bradley, who played nine seasons in the majors with the New York Yankees, Chicago White Sox, and Seattle Mariners.

“Playing for Coach Bradley, that guy is the ultimate professional,” asserted Venable.

“He goes about his business in the exact way they want us to go about our business here. To be able to play for him and see that first hand before I started playing pro ball was a huge, huge help.”

Venable continues to seek advice from his former coach on a regular basis.

“I talked to him last week. He’s as credible a source of information as you can possibly get. He’s been where I want to be and succeeded there. You would have to be dumb not to listen to what he has to say.”

Another resource at Venable’s disposal is San Diego Padres pitcher Chris Young, a 2002 Princeton alum who, like Venable, had success with both baseball and basketball for the Tigers.

Venable and Young were the first two players in Ivy history to earn first team All-Ivy honors in both basketball and baseball. Young, currently on the disabled list, is in his fifth major league season and was named a National League All-Star in 2007.

Venable hopes to join Young with the Padres soon, the unlikely pairing of two Princeton graduates on a 25-man roster. 

“It is great for me, because [Chris] is a guy who has the same collegiate background,” said Venable.

“It is nice to be able to pick his brain about the process, some of the things that he works on mentally that are challenges as far as getting to that level. He’s one of the most positive guys I’ve ever met. He just tells me to keep working hard. As a minor leaguer you have to keep working hard. Sometimes the breaks come and sometimes the breaks don’t. You just have to make sure you’re staying focused and doing what you have to do to improve every day.”

As Venable continues to succeed at the highest level of minor league baseball, the next phone call could always be the one that brings him to the pros.

It is a position Venable has been preparing for his whole life.

“I think I had a good grasp, just growing up around the game of what it meant to be a big leaguer and what it took to excel,” added Venable.

“I always thought that I could do it. I am real fortunate to be in a system where they put you in good situations to learn. I’ve learned from a lot of good people. I always hoped to be in this position.”

What would it mean for Venable to get called up to the Padres?

“It would mean everything; that is what I am working for,” asserted Venable. “Getting that phone call would be great but getting that phone call and taking advantage of that opportunity is what I am hoping to do.”

An opportunity that would leave Venable with precious few lazy summer afternoons in the near future.

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