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Szuminski’s Barbs Hurt MIT Athletes

By Christopher P. Anderson

MIT papers have been sprayed of late with the front-page news that alum Jason Szuminski has made the San Diego Padres as a pitcher. Judging by the press coverage, it seems a proud moment for the campus. I for one want to be happy for him and for the Institute. But I’m not. Instead I’m some combination of angry, disappointed, and embarrassed. I feel as though Szuminski has attempted to salt the earth behind him and betrayed the entire department that made his Major League Baseball gig possible.

Let’s go to the primary source. A March 26 interview between Szuminski and ESPN.com humor writer Jim Caple touched on his alma mater, unique in the MLB. But the former Beaver doesn’t seem to laughing when he takes the MIT baseball program to task. “I didn’t go to practice much. It was always the people who showed up at practice who got worse,” he said.

Szuminski said MIT’s field was in such bad shape that just running full speed could be dangerous: “We had uniforms. They didn’t fit but we had uniforms.”

“I played down a lot. I usually play to my environment.” From this, Caple infers, “Not surprisingly, [MIT] lost a lot and lost badly.” This incidentally is incongruous with Szuminski’s junior season, when the team went 17-16 overall and had a winning record in the conference.

Szuminski’s highly non-constructive criticisms could obviously leave an extraordinarily bad taste in the mouth of a potential MIT player -- in any sport. Some will take the impression of a cheap one-shack operation to heart and cross the Institute off their list, depriving the school of a possibly brilliant and industrious academic mind.

Said athlete might be shocked to find out that the Men’s Soccer team went to the 16-team NCAA Tournament this year, or that Men’s Water Polo won the Division III Championship. Nor might he or she understand the place sports holds in the life of some of our students, a chance to go full-tilt in something other than school. That is, if said athlete even investigated beyond Szuminski’s words.

He fails to mention that in many sports, MIT’s programs are as intense and successful as any in the region. In addition to soccer and water polo, members of the swimming, track & field, volleyball, and ice hockey programs (to name but a few) can tell of environments where commitment and victory are expected and habitual.

Sadly, he also says nothing of the hard-working people in the athletic office who fight stigma and financial hurdles so that we can have sports at MIT. He sure wouldn’t be playing in the majors without their efforts. I can’t be sure, but I’d bet someone from Major League Baseball called the coach, the pressman, the statistician, to get some information on Szuminski’s past. Don’t forget the training staff who kept him and his team in playing shape. None of that was mentioned in the interview.

Many “Tech” athletes have felt the annoyance of having some blowhard ask them, “I didn’t expect MIT to have a sports program.” It doesn’t help the stigma to have an alumnus magnifying his frustrations to the national media, generating more ink than our own office could ever hope to.

Sports information director James Kramer serves as the primary press and public-relations officer for the department, trying to get any one of 41 sports teams connected with the local sports media. He does his best to show the reality of MIT’s thriving sports scene, but it is incalculable what damage to that effort may have been done with the single click it takes to read Szuminski’s “exposÉ.”

I can’t speak for the condition of the field or the uniforms or the coaching; that’s not the point. Whether he likes it or not, he has a responsibility as the most visible emissary of our entire athletic program to not generate one-sided negative publicity -- a responsibility to the athletes, coaches and administrators. Because if he’s going to give more of these bitter interviews, his words are going to get projected onto today’s public, and those most susceptible to the poor picture are those already most ignorant about it. The disappointing thing is that as an MIT athlete, he should understand all this.

Any man who has made a professional team has reaped the fruit of talent and perseverance. So I wish Szuminski the best. But I don’t feel like cheering for him. He doesn’t seem to be cheering for us.

Christopher P. Anderson is a member of the MIT Football team and the announcer for MIT Basketball.