Jason Szuminski, who entered spring training in February with a slim shot at earning a spot as a relief pitcher on the San Diego Padres' regular-season roster, has become the first MIT alumnus to make the major leagues.
Szuminski, who earned the S.B. in 2000 in aerospace engineering, knows something about flight and aerodynamics. He apparently applied that knowledge to a baseball, because it's his sinkerball that got him where he is today.
"He came in with sort of a determined look and threw well all spring. It's certainly something he's earned," Padres manager Bruce Bochy told the Associated Press on Sunday.
"You wouldn't know he went to MIT," Bochy added. "He fits in well with the ballclub, not that we're all dummies or anything. He's just been one of the guys and we've had a lot of fun with him."
The media have had fun with him as well, latching onto the "rocket scientist as baseball player" angle. Szuminski has been profiled in several newspaper and magazine articles as well as on National Public Radio, and ESPN.com has featured him twice. Jeff Marron of ESPN.com wrote about humorous fictional events that might happen to each team on Opening Day, offering this speculation about the Padres:
"Jason Szuminski, an MIT grad and a San Diego pitcher, sets off a small explosion in the Padres' dugout when he mixes pine tar, sunflower seeds, tobacco juice and a 'secret ingredient.' Within minutes, free broadband Internet access becomes available in every home in North America."
According to the Alumni Association, Szuminski is only the second MIT player to be drafted by a baseball team. Two other alumni, Claude "Skip" Lockwood (S.M. 1983) and Art Merewether (S.B. 1925) also played in the majors, but both attended MIT after their baseball careers were over.
Szuminski posted a 3.38 ERA in 12 appearances during spring training, after acquitting himself well in Arizona Fall League play. In four minor league seasons, he went 23-12 with a 3.99 ERA, with 186 strikeouts and 110 walks, according to the Associated Press.
The Alumni Association has a web site with links to articles about Szuminski as well as archived stories and spring training updates at http://alum.mit.edu/ne/noteworthy/szuminski-blog.html.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on April 7, 2004.