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MIT Grad Aims for Spot On Padres’ 2004 Roster

By Pon-Pon Yeh

STAFF REPORTER

Jason E. Szuminski ’01 SB Aeronautics and Astronautics (Course XVI) will find out by this Sunday whether he will make the regular season roster for the San Diego Padres and history as the first MIT graduate to ever have gone on to play Major League Baseball.

Szuminski is currently training with the Padres during spring training, competing among 28 other pitchers for slots on the upcoming season’s roster.

The right handed hurler is upbeat about the situation. “They definitely say they like me and they want to keep me but they’re trying to find a spot ... there are a lot of good pitchers,” he said.

MIT... and baseball?

Although Szuminski has spent the last three years working his way up through the minor league teams of the Chicago Cubs, he definitely had not included professional baseball in his plans coming into MIT. “I came to school thinking that it was the best option I had going for me ... I had an Air Force ROTC scholarship there. That would put me into an active duty job four years after I got out of school,” he said.

The MIT men’s baseball coach, Mac D. Singleton, feels the same way. “You don’t come to MIT to play pro ball. You come to MIT for the education. But along with it, you get an opportunity to play,” he said.

And play Jason did. Szuminski pitched all of his four years at MIT in spite of financial, academic, and time-related constraints. The kind of energy and enthusiasm that Jason exhibited for baseball on top of his other responsibilities earned him the respect and attention of his coach and teammates. Singleton said Szuminski “just loved to have the baseball in his hand” and would “come out intense, just ready to play.”

Former teammate John J. Kogel G said, “Jason was an awesome guy to play with not only because he was an extremely talented pitcher and great competitor, but [because] he was also one of the funniest guys on the team. He’s got a great attitude about life and the game.”

The turning point

There was one game that seemed to be the turning point for Szuminski’s interest to play professionally. Singleton recalled how scouts had come to the game to watch another player and “Jason pitched, and all of a sudden he was striking everybody out.”

Szuminski remembered that after the game, the scout talked to him and said “If you go try to play for real, you might have a chance to get drafted, go onto the minor leagues -- see how far you can go.”

While Szuminski could not put all of his energy into baseball since he had other commitments at MIT such as academics, this need to balance may have actually helped him.

Szuminksi said that while MIT was a “high stress environment,” it also taught him to how to conquer adversity, and to “take something that is so difficult and figure out how to be successful at it.”

He said that this can be seen in a lot of MIT graduates and students. “They go on and they’re successful in a lot of the things that they do, because they have that ability to jump into something brand new that they know nothing about and figure out how to do it very well,” he said.

However, when he’s on the mound, MIT is the last thing on Szuminski’s mind. “For the most part, I think baseball and MIT are pretty far apart. It’s a different kind of challenge,” he said.

While he may very well make a name for himself in the major leagues, Szuminski still has a four year commitment after graduation with Air Force ROTC, of which he has served a little more than three years. He hopes to convert the remaining year into a couple of years of reserve duty. And regardless of whether he succeeds in the field of baseball, Szuminski said, “I’m never going to count the Air Force out.”

Featuring Szuminski!

Another perk of graduating from MIT and entering into a professional sport is the media attention. Szuminski has been featured on ESPN.com’s Page 2 column by renowned sportswriters such as Jim Cable and Peter Gammons. His progress is tracked in the Sports Illustrated magazine under the “Szuminski Watch.” In addition, he has also attracted the attention of the National Public Radio’s Sunday Edition, the San Diego Union-tribune, and Newsday.

On his newfound fame, Jason said, “It’s amusing ... they all seem to think they’re funny with their attempts at the rocket science jokes.” However, he dismisses the attention, saying, “they’re just articles ... whether people are watching or not, I’m doing the best I can because I want to make it for myself more than anybody else.”

Baseball with the big boys

Even though Szuminski says that MIT and minor/major league baseball are “worlds apart,” he has still managed to fit right in. “I really like the atmosphere here with the Padres. It’s a real good environment, laid back, everybody has a good attitude ... It’s a good feeling,” he commented.

When asked what he wants to do in the future, Szuminski jokingly replied “try to make opening day” by obtaining a spot on the roster of the Padres. As a Rule V draftee, if Szuminski does not make the Padres regular season roster, he will be traded back to the Cubs where he will probably stay in the minor leagues.

Regardless of what the Padres managing staff decide on Szuminski, many people in the MIT community are rooting for him. Singleton said, “He really is a good kid and I wish him the best and you know I wish that he goes all the way ... he has the passion and the enthusiasm.”

Kogel said, “I think he’ll do very well ... he has risen to every challenge and turned heads doing so ... He should get a shot being picked up by the San Diego Padres.”

When asked for words of advice for aspiring MIT students, Szuminski chuckled, then replied, “take the opportunity and go through with it.”