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(Photo by Bill Allen/NJ SportAction)

LAYING IT ON: Princeton University senior outfielder Will Venable lays down a bunt in action earlier this spring. The talented Venable, who scored 1,010 points in his career for the Tiger basketball team, is hitting .410 with six homers and 21 RBIs in his first 26 games. Venable, who was chosen last June in the 15th round of the Major League Baseball draft by the Baltimore Orioles, is drawing the close scrutiny of the big league scouts with his hot start.
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Venable Turning Heads With Sizzling Spring In Helping Tiger Baseball Take Division Lead

By Bill Alden

Will Venable's winter ended badly as the Princeton University men's basketball team struggled to the program's first-ever sub- .500 mark in Ivy League play.

The talented Venable, though, didn't have time to stew over that frustration as he headed to North Carolina days after the end of basketball to join the Princeton baseball team on its annual southern swing and take up his starting spot in the outfield.

So far, the spring has been a lot kinder for the 6'3, 205-pound Venable as he has hit .410 with six homers and 21 RBIs in his first 26 games this season. Sparked by Venable's production, Princeton has recovered from an 0-9 start to stand at 13-17 overall and 7-5 in Ivy League play after sweeping Penn 6-5 and 15-9 in a twinbill last Sunday in Philadelphia.

Venable, who forsook baseball in his senior year in high school and his freshman year at Princeton to concentrate on basketball, acknowledged that he has reached a comfort level in baseball.

"I have always expected to perform at this kind of level," said Venable, a senior from San Rafael, Calif. "I'm at the point right now where I've had enough at bats and I feel really comfortable. This is where I should be at."

Plunging right into baseball was just what Venable needed to put the winter behind him. "It's a great change of pace to be able to do something to occupy my mind and not think about basketball," said Venable, who ended up scoring 1,010 points in his Tiger basketball career and earned All-Ivy honors in his last two seasons. "It's something I still think about but I've got other things to think about."

After having been chosen last June in the 15th round of the Major League Baseball draft by the Baltimore Orioles, Venable is thinking a lot these days about his future in pro baseball.

"I'm going to keep doing what I do and see what happens in the beginning of June," said Venable, whose father Max Venable, played in the major leagues for 12 seasons. "It's definitely something I'm looking forward to. I just hope I can be drafted in a spot where it would be hard to turn it down."

Venable credits Princeton head coach Scott Bradley with helping to raise his baseball stock. "Coach Bradley has been great, he's been available whenever I need him," asserted Venable, noting that he was able to squeeze in 45-minute baseball training sessions twice a week in January and February. "He's going to make sure that I get enough swings. He makes sure that I don't get too down."

Bradley, for his part, doesn't see too much failure in Venable's future. "You can't teach people to do what Venable does," said Bradley, noting that the major league scouts have been flocking to Princeton games this year to see Venable and that he may end up getting drafted as high as former Tiger star B.J. Szymanski, who was chosen in the second round last year by the Cincinnati Reds as the 48th pick of the draft.

"His instincts as a hitter are tremendous. His ability to hit the breaking ball is uncanny. I'm a big believer in blood lines. His dad wasn't just a regular major league hitter. His dad was really solid, a really tough major league hitter."

In Bradley's view, the apple does not fall far from the tree when it comes to the Venables. "I think we will be watching Will Venable playing in the major leagues someday, I really do," asserted Bradley, a nine-year major leaguer himself.

"It's not just the physical ability. He has one of the best athletic mentalities I've ever been around. His feel for the game, his instincts as a hitter, his toughness, are second to none."

Bradley is hoping that his club shows some of that toughness as it looks to win its ninth straight crown in the Ivy League's Gehrig Division.

"We feel good about ourselves," said Bradley, whose club is currently two games ahead of Penn in the Gehrig Division standings and hosts division foe Columbia for doubleheaders on April 23 and April 24.

"We've got to play defense, that's the key. We've had games this year where the defense has fallen apart. We have to catch the ball and record outs."

Bradley likes his club's blend of pitching and hitting. "We've always felt like our pitching depth is good in the league," said Bradley, whose staff features starters Erik Stiller, Gavin Fabian, Eric Walz, and Christian Staehely and relievers Brian Kappel and Steve Miller.

"Venable, Andrew Salini, and Ryan Eldridge are three of the top ten hitters in the league so that really creates problems for the other teams. We have a chance to do some good things."

From his vantage point, Venable is focusing on advice from his father as he looks to end his Princeton career by helping the Tigers win an Ivy League title.

"He's told me to take things day by day and that each at-bat is big," said Venable. "The one thing you have to deal with is failure. How you respond to that is going to determine how you succeed."

If Venable keeps responding like he has this spring, he could be looking at a productive summer in pro ball.

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