MIT graduate trades rockets for baseballs

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Yogi Berra said that 90 percent of the game of baseball was
mental–the other half is physical. If that’s true, then it goes
without saying that a baseball player’s overall intelligence and
aptitude should be directly tied to the overall performance of a
player.

Translation: Rocket scientists should be great baseball
players.

This is a theory that has been severely overlooked by the powers
that be, but right now, manager Bruce Bochy and the San Diego
Padres front office, are testing it out, and the tests’ subjects
name is Jason Szuminski, known affectionately around the club house
as “zoo.”

Zoo is one of those rare breeds of intellect and athleticism,
who chose the latter to make his money and the former to make his
name.

You see Zoo, aside from being the youngest pitcher on the San
Diego Padres’ major league roster, is an aerospace engineer who
graduated three years ago from a little northeastern school
recognized more for their 57 Nobel Laureates than for their
athletic prowess, namely the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology.

He is also a second Lieutenant in the United States Air Force,
but that is beside the point. The astounding number that you have
to keep your eye on is the number “1,” meaning Szuminski is the
first-ever graduate from the most reputable technology school in
the country, and some say the world, to play a major league
sport.

When you consider that the University of Miami had six players
taken in the FIRST ROUND of last weekend’s draft and Duke
University, no slouch themselves academically, had more than 10
players drafted to the NBA in the last five years, the astounding
nature of Szuminski’s feat comes into perspective.

As I said earlier, Zoo was in the Air Force. Because MIT is a
Division III school they do not give out athletic scholarships,
however, he was offered a Reserve Officer’s Training Corps
Scholarship (ROTC) and a spot on the MIT baseball team during his
senior year and, seeing nothing better than graduating from a
school of that stature, he jumped at the opportunity to play.

After an impressive college career, he was drafted by the
Chicago Cubs in he 27th round of the amateur draft in 2001,
however, he was also committed to serve in the Air Force for four
years of active duty.

So he made a deal with the Air Force: He would play ball during
the summer for a minor-league affiliate of the Cubbies, and he
would serve out his commitment for the remainder of the year.

So for the last three summers Szuminski has worked his way up
the minor league ranks, and in the off-season he has worked on
satellite acquisition and guidance systems at the Air Force
Research Lab at Edwards Air Force Base outside Los Angeles, aptly
nicknamed the “Rocket Lab.”

And then, after last season, Zoo was taken by the Padres in the
Rule 5 draft, which allows teams to draft unprotected players out
of other team’s minor league systems, invite them to spring
training and let them compete for a roster spot. If they make the
team, they assume the player’s contract. If they don’t, they go
back to their original team. Szuminski made the squad.

A month into the major league season he has been about average.
He’s only seen action in six games, scattering seven hits and
allowing four runs. But his real prowess has probably been most
recognizable in the clubhouse after games and on those long
cross-country plane rides when the really extended games of trivial
pursuit take place. It seems that Szuminski has a real knack for
the “Science and Technology” questions. Go figure.

But whether stardom is ultimately in the cards for this
brainiac, one thing is for certain: He is the pride and joy of MIT,
a place where the term ‘sports’ was rarely ever uttered without a
roll of the eyes. In fact, my own grandfather, himself an MIT grad
and a current resident of south Florida–more than 3,000 miles away
from this Jimmy Stewart-esque story, is quite enamored with the
story.

As are, I’m sure, countless other MIT alums across the country.
He was even the lead story on MIT’s homepage for most of the past
month.

I guess it’s cool to get to cheer for a player on a baseball
team now, instead of having to constantly cheer for a new
breakthrough in the field of thermodynamics or robotics.

Whether Szuminski’s intellect and rocket science background
allow him to get a better drop on his sinker or more velocity on
his fastball, only time will tell.

Remember, Yogi was always of the inclination that you couldn’t
think and hit at the same time; hopefully, for Szuminski’s sake,
he’ll be able to think and pitch.