Bates Leads Princeton Against Costa Rica - Nick Bates, That Is
Diego, one of three tour guides for Princeton's trip to Costa Rica, had just seen his first lacrosse game, and now he was being asked what stood out the most.
"The skill," he said. "And when they hid the ball."
And what else?
"And I loved the thing with Nick."
"Nick" is Nick Bates, the 10-year-old son of Princeton men's lacrosse coach Chris Bates.
"The thing" was Nick's impact on the game Sunday morning between the Tigers and the Costa Rican national team.
It was an historic occasion for the sport of lacrosse in Costa Rica. No American college team had ever played here before, as the sport is in its infancy and the players in white for the home team were complete novices compared to their American guests.
And while the game itself was not very competitive, to the point where nobody knew what the final score was, it was still a great event. The Costa Ricans are pioneers of the sport in their country, and they were oozing enthusiasm, spirit and appreciation that their visitors came to play them in their new sport.
Princeton arrived early to the stadium to tape lacrosse lines on the soccer field, though it was FieldTurf. The teams lined up pregame on the tape for the side of the box as the Costa Rican national anthem was played - and sung by the CR players - followed by the Star-Spangled Banner, complete with singing by the Princetonians.
For the purists, Costa Rica definitely scored three goals. Princeton scored somewhere in the neighborhood of 20-25 and could have scored triple that if had wanted to.
Instead, the Tigers brought out a lineup that included All-America goalie Tyler Fiorito on attack and fellow All-Americas Chad Wiedmaier and John Cunningham with shortsticks.
Almost nobody played the right position, and Eric Sanschagrin, who started in goal for the Tigers, finished the game playing offensive midfield.
Even manager Mark Tanner got into the fun, scoring a goal of his own in the third quarter. Travis Boyce, who had scored the first goal by a player in the class of 2012 when he scored with a pole in the first fall scrimmage of freshman year, scored the final goal for the class as well to end the scoring.
And then there was Nick.
Chris Bates put his son into the game to start the fourth quarter, and Nick responded by scoring two goals of his own. The first came after a save on the other end was outletted to midfield to Tom Schreiber, who raced full speed down the middle, slowed as he approached the Costa Rican goal and flipped it to Nick, who shot into the top of the net.
Nick would add his second goal and then come out of the game, and the crowd of about 250 or so in the stadium - most of whom also had probably never seen lacrosse before - gave Nick a loud and prolonged standing ovation.
The crowd also began to swell with anticipation anytime the Costa Ricans brought the ball across midfield, much like a soccer crowd would as a counter would begin.
Each time the home team scored, the crowd erupted in cheers.
When the game ended, the teams traded jerseys, posed for pictures together and stayed together for a lunch in the stands. There were handshakes and hugs across both teams.
After lunch, Princeton piled into its three mini-buses and made the five-hour trip to the town of Samara, a beach town north and west of San Jose, the capital city where Princeton had been staying since arriving Thursday.
Before reaching its beach resort, the team stopped at a nearby school to meet briefly with a group of children, many of whom had lacrosse sticks in their hands. The Tigers will be back there Monday afternoon for a clinic, and there will be an intersquad scrimmage in the town Monday evening.
The future of Costa Rican lacrosse depends on getting enough of these kids to buy into the sport and not put their sticks down the second a soccer ball appears.
It's a grass roots effort to be sure for the Costa Rican national lacrosse team.
Having an American college team come to play for the first time was a huge moment
And a pretty heartfelt one.