He picked Princeton because of a single sport and wound up excelling in two. But in the end, Will Venable is now working his way to the big leagues in the sport of his father -- baseball.
Students usually choose to attend Princeton because of its academic quality and reputation. Will Venable chose Princeton because of its basketball. "The program had a great tradition of going to the NCAA tournament," Venable explains, "and I wanted to be a part of that."
Unusual, but it makes sense. During Venable's four years at Princeton the basketball team went to the NCAA tournament twice, helped in no small part by Venable. He averaged 10.3 points and 4.4 rebounds his junior and senior seasons, leading Princeton in assists and steals and earning All-Ivy honors both seasons.
"Basketball dominated my interest in sports," says Venable. He even skipped his freshman baseball season, and hit a pedestrian .239 as a sophomore, though he started 24 out of 27 games. But he dramatically improved the next season, hitting .344 and making honorable mention All-Ivy. He caught the attention of professional scouts, getting drafted in the 15th round by the Baltimore Orioles.
Venable had a superb senior season, earning first team All-Ivy honors. He's only the second player in Ivy League history to earn first team All-Ivy honors in both basketball and baseball. The first? Princeton's Chris Young, who is now a starting pitcher for the San Diego Padres.
More importantly for Venable, he played in two NCAA baseball tournaments, in addition to the two NCAA basketball tournaments. Of his experiences he says simply "until I went, I didn't fully understand how special it is to be a college athlete."
Princeton's a pretty special place to enable a student to even play both sports, much less participate in their respective NCAA tournaments. According to Venable "It was a lot of work, but both Coach Bradley (Princeton's baseball coach) and Coaches Thompson and Scott (basketball coaches) allowed me to do what I needed in preparation for either season." As for academics the "teachers were also understanding, while holding me to the same academic standards of all the other students."
With Venable's outstanding senior performance coming on top of his being drafted by the Orioles, expectations were high for the 2005 draft. ESPN's Peter Gammons even labeled Venable "my favorite sleeper" of the draft.
Taken by the San Diego Padres in the seventh round, he was assigned to a rookie league team in Arizona. But he first picked up his B.A. in anthropology at Princeton's 2005 graduation. Of his time at Princeton Venable says it was "a tough four years that taught me a lot about myself and other people. I was challenged academically and athletically at all times."
In his first professional season he tore up the league in Arizona, hitting .322 in 15 games. Venable was quickly promoted to Class A Eugene, where he played in 42 games and hit .216. In 2006 Venable was promoted to the Fort Wayne Wizards, where his hitting coach was his father, former major leaguer Max Venable.
Venable had an outstanding season, hitting .314 and achieving team records in runs batted in (91) and runs scored (86). He was named the team's Most Valuable Player. "Will has done a tremendous job," says Padres Vice President of Scouting and Player Development Grady Fuson. "He has stepped in and become an All-Star, Organization MVP and won the Hawaiian League Batting Title all in his first full year. Will's aptitude and instincts are off the charts."
But he hasn't forgotten where he came from. Princeton was "a great place to compete athletically and pursue academics in an environment that holds people to a higher standard, while offering great support."
— Stephen Eschenbach