Boston Red Sox bench coach Will Venable has already lost 21 points to Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium; Coach K called him ‘one hell of a competitor’
More than 15 years ago he would be named Red Sox bench coach and to call Fenway Park home, Will Venable had a memorable performance at one of America’s other most famous sports cathedrals.
Venable, who was hired as Alex Cora’s new right-hand man last month, was a two-sport athlete at Princeton from 2001 to 2005, playing both baseball and basketball. On January 5, 2005, Venable had arguably his most memorable basketball outing, scoring 21 points for the Tigers in a loss to Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Princeton lost 59-46, dropping their second game against the Blue Devils in as many seasons. But Venable, who started on guard and averaged 10.5 points per game, shot 8 of 13 from the field and added three steals and three assists in 39 minutes.
“It was awesome”, Venable recalled on MassLive The Fenway Rundown podcast last week. “It’s not often in the Ivy League that we take these conference games out. We had a couple of them every year so it was always special. It was one of those days where we had injuries, we had guys not playing well and the ball ended up being in my hands a lot.
“I’m still someone who really enjoys the challenge of better competition,” he said. “We didn’t win the game, which was obviously what I wanted to do and what would have been really special, but it was good to go out there and have a good game. Regardless of my performance, what an amazing experience to be on the floor and having the whole ‘Cameron Crazies’ point of view on you and booing you. It was all awesome.
This year’s Duke team, led by JJ Redick and Shelden Williams, were then ranked fifth in the country and would reach the Sweet 16. In what would amount to a largely forgettable non-conference game, Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski came away impressed with Venable, who scored Princeton’s first 10 points and 14 of Tigers’ 18 points in the first half.
“Will Venable is one hell of a contender, in the Ivy League or any league,” Krzyzewski said after the match.
Venable’s performance was so impressive that Bill Alden, writes a post-game story for Town Topics, reported that Duke fans “reluctantly applauded Venable as he slowly walked over to the bench.” Venable isn’t sure the “Cameron Crazies” are that nice.
“The legend might have overtaken the reality there,” Venable said. “Coach K and everyone were very complimentary. It wasn’t a great game for us overall so I think they needed something that they had to be laudatory about and I was the guy.
Venable, who grew up around baseball as the son of former big league Max Venable, considered basketball his primary sport growing up and didn’t even play baseball as a rookie at Princeton. After his mother, Molly, told him that she wanted him to follow in his father’s footsteps and consider focusing on baseball, he joined Scott Bradley’s team at Princeton in his sophomore year. Three years later, he was drafted by the Padres in the seventh round of the MLB Draft and went on to play nine years in the big leagues.
“I’m glad I listened to Mom there,” Venable said. “It worked.”
Venable, an outfielder who stole 135 bases in the majors, said basketball taught him the value of athleticism in baseball. As a coach of the Cubs for three years and now the Red Sox, this is something he tries to instill in the players he works with.
“With baseball there is so much that we do mechanically and there are so many challenges mentally. These are things that make us forget that being an athlete is really what you want to be there and that is really a valuable attribute to have, ”he said. “When I look at the guys and the coaches it’s something that I really love to keep an eye on and what I love to help guys maximize their athleticism. I know that’s what helped me survive. When you talk about survival tools, being a great long distance player, and being a good guy defensively, you have to be athletic to do these things. For a lot of guys who don’t hit 40 jacks a year, being an athlete is going to be what will help them keep up.
Having already made memories at Cameron Indoor and Wrigley Field, Venable can’t wait to be a part of some special moments at Fenway in his new role.
“I think it’s the rare combination of sports with great tradition and history, great fans, great teams and great venues,” said Venable. “La Palestra in Philadelphia, playing Penn there, I would move there too, with Cameron. Just truly magical places where you can feel the story beyond the buzz and intensity of this game night. Fenway and Wrigley are sure to top this list as well. “