April 13, 2022

Lewis Powers PU Baseball to 2-1 Weekend Against Cornell, Junior Standout in the Hunt for Ivy Batting Triple Crown

SWING TIME: Princeton University baseball player Nadir Lewis follows through on a swing in recent action. Last weekend, junior outfielder Lewis starred as Princeton went 2-1 in a three-game series against visiting Cornell. Lewis went 5-for-11 with two homers, three runs, and seven RBIs in the series for the Tigers. Princeton, now 4-21 overall and 2-7 Ivy League, will head to New England next weekend for a three-game series at Dartmouth with a doubleheader on April 16 and a single game on April 17. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Justin Feil

Nadir Lewis worried that he might be forgotten after what amounted to two years away from college baseball due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Princeton University junior center fielder has come back and drawn attention for his consistent play. Lewis is second in the Ivy League in batting average at .398 among players with 40 or more at bats. Through the first 25 games of the season, he had been held hitless just twice to serve notice that he cannot be overlooked. He is only one spot away from being the Triple Crown leader. He is tops in the Ivies with nine home runs and with 29 runs batted in.

“I’m still here and these years off have not been years off,” said Lewis, a 6’1, 195-pound native of Alpharetta, Ga. “I’ve been working.”

It wasn’t easy for Lewis, not with huge breaks between playing college seasons. But he learned more about himself during those challenges and has developed into a more polished, more prepared, and more mentally ready player.

“It’s definitely a very gratifying feeling,” said Lewis. “When you’re putting in work, it’s nice to see results from stuff that you’ve done. I feel like that’s baseball. You get out what you put in. So far individually I’m happy, but team-wise I wish we had more wins. But I think they’re coming.”

Princeton picked up its first two Ivy wins of the season last weekend. Lewis was 3-for-4 with a double and grand slam in a 12-3 win over Cornell in the first game of a doubleheader Saturday. He homered again Sunday in a 10-6 win over Cornell as the Tigers gained confidence winning two out of three games. Lewis went 5-for-11 with two homers, three runs, and seven RBIs on the weekend as the Tigers improved to 4-21 overall and 2-7 Ivy.

“It’s a really young group; at times it kind of shows on the field,” said Lewis, reflecting on the team’s start.

“It’s such a talented group and I think we’re starting to put things together. We’ve lost some close games. I think things will change quickly. We have to get over that hump. With more experience and more ABs and more game live reps, guys are getting more comfortable. I think our time is coming.”

Lewis is hopeful the team can continue to gain experience and wins over the second half of the Ivy campaign. He knows personally the ups and downs of the game after fighting through his lows during his offseason experiences in the summers of 2020 and 2021 in the Northwoods League, a collegiate summer baseball wooden bat league with teams located in the midwestern United States and northwestern Ontario.

“The Northwoods League is definitely one of the more intense leagues because you basically play a game a day for three months straight,” said Lewis.

“The first year was COVID, so it was a little shortened. We probably played right around 36 games. I actually ended up going back the next summer and that was a full summer so we played 72 games in like 75 days. That was a crazy experience. I actually loved it a lot.”

His first season for the Green Bay Booyah in the league came after the pandemic cut short his sophomore year at Princeton after seven games. Lewis had started to feel better about his hitting at Princeton, was using his improved strength and focusing on cutting down his strikeouts when the year was suddenly gone. He was out of action for three months before the Northwoods League began.

“Green Bay the first year, I thought I played fine,” said Lewis. “I definitely slugged fine, but the batting average wasn’t crazy high. That was after a couple months of being off from COVID and being in lockdown. I thought I fared pretty well.”

The following year was tougher because of how rusty he was coming into the Northwoods League. Lewis had been working out back home in Georgia at Rapid Sports Performance, which trains a wide range of baseball ages and talents. But it was nothing like most of the other college players who came into the summer straight from their college seasons.

“I had my real test,” said Lewis. “I was a year off from school, so I was just training by myself. I was not getting as many live reps as I would have liked. I was playing against guys who had just played all season. Those first 60-80 at bats, I struggled.”

The result had him doubting his abilities. Lewis was adjusting to playing with a lot of new people and seeing a broad selection of different pitching. But Lewis stayed persistent, took extra batting and as the season moved along he started to play better and recover from a difficult start to last summer.

“Doubt in athletics is a real thing,” said Lewis. “I was thinking, it’s been a while. I struggled. The more ABs I got, the more I got back in the groove. I don’t know the exact split, but my first 100 ABs, I batted like .160. Then through the last 150-200, I batted over .330. I just needed to get those ABs and get back in that game speed. I think that was huge. You can go down there and play against high level guys and think this is maybe not for me. Those subconscious thoughts start to kick in. I feel like I got through that and got over the hump and finished strong. That was a big test for me personally. I got through that. I always go back to that. I know what I need to do. And I know how I need to continue to do well.”

Lewis took the momentum from his second half in the Northwoods League into his return to
Princeton, and quickly set about proving he is among the top hitters in the league and one of the best players in the league. His numbers have rocketed from the .266 he hit through his freshman year to now hovering around .400. He also leads the Ivies in slugging at a .774 clip.

“I feel like getting a lot of ABs in the summer and working out more, I finally know myself as a player and I know how to play to my strengths and limit other people playing against my weaknesses,” said Lewis.

“I’m really comfortable in the box. I feel like I’m taking what the pitcher is giving me and not pressing. My plate discipline has just been a lot better than usual. When things are going well, it feels like the ball looks like a beach ball and that’s how it is now. All the offseason work, after those summers, I definitely reevaluated what I was doing and what I didn’t do well and I worked at that a lot just to minimize the holes in my game. I feel like it’s paying off now.”

Lewis has been a big plus for the Tigers since he hit the field in 2019, starting every game as a freshman in the outfield. He stepped in for Jesper Horsted who decided to forego his baseball career to focus on the NFL draft. Princeton coach Scott Bradley’s message that the best player would play at each position resonated with Lewis, who found himself in the starting lineup on opening day of his first year.

“It was kind of a crazy experience,” said Lewis. “My first college game, I was in the 3 hole. I was thrown right in the fire. I’m honestly so glad it happened that way.”

Lewis continues to prove himself worthy of a starting spot in the Tigers lineup. And whether he has been playing at Princeton, working out at home, or suiting up in the Northwoods League, he has found ways to develop himself with every opportunity. His offseason lifting has strengthened him, his freshman year he tried to emulate how the seniors carried themselves and performed, and the summer league experiences have been highly instructional and geared him up for the ultimate level.

“They said it definitely prepares you if you want to play pro ball,” said Lewis.

“It gets you in the mindset of having to play every day and having to be at the field every single day. There are so many at bats. You learn a lot about yourself playing that much, how to deal with the ups and downs of baseball because the sport will definitely humble you at some point.”

Lewis has also had lots of highs since he took up the game at age six, going away from soccer that his brother played at Howard and his sister just committed to continuing to play at the University of Kentucky.

“I don’t know if I’d have been as good as them,” said Lewis. “I’m glad I chose baseball.”

Lewis is eligible this year for the Major League Baseball draft. Whether anyone selects him or not this year, he has played himself into the draft picture with a consistent season coming out of losing basically two seasons to the pandemic.

“I’m definitely looking at my opportunities,” said Lewis. “If the opportunity presents itself, I’m definitely open to it. I feel like I was just a freshman, and now I’m already draft eligible. It’s definitely something I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve put a lot into this game and it’s always been a dream of mine.”