Rocket Man

March 01, 2004

Reported To Padres spring training camp in Peoria, Ariz.,
hard-throwing righthander-rocket scientist Jason Szuminski, who
is trying to become the first graduate of MIT to make the majors.
Szuminski, 25, was a decent pitcher at MacArthur High in San
Antonio, but when he graduated he only threw in the low 80s. He
considered going to Texas A&M or Rice and walking on. Neither
school showed any interest, so he accepted an Air Force ROTC
scholarship to MIT. A Division III school that has produced 57
Nobel Prize winners but only one baseball draft pick (pitcher
Alan Dopfel in 1972, who never made it past Triple A), MIT
doesn't offer athletic scholarships--and it doesn't play
powerhouses. "I could go out there and throw fastballs for nine
innings," Szuminski says. "I liked to just throw the ball as hard
as I could."

When he wasn't pitching, Szuminski was doing things like studying
thermodynamics or traveling to Houston to test the formation
flying satellites he and his classmates built. (The testing was
done in a plane that flies like a roller coaster to simulate zero
gravity. "Everyone throws up at least once," says Szuminski.) He
also filled out his 6'5" frame--adding 30 pounds to get to
220--and, by throwing virtually nothing but heaters, built up his
arm strength. By his senior year he threw in the 90s, prompting
the Cubs to take him in the 27th round of the 2000 draft. The
aerospace engineering major then mastered the physics of the
sinker and the slider, moving from A ball to Triple A last
year--his combined ERA was 2.78 and his strikeout-to-walk ratio
was nearly 3 to 1. When he became eligible in the Rule V draft,
the Royals took him and traded him to the Padres, who must keep
him on their 25-man roster or offer him back to Chicago. "I'm
excited," said the ex-Engineer, who will work toward fulfilling
his Air Force obligation in the off-season. "This is an
opportunity for me to get closer [to the majors]."

B/W PHOTO: BETTMANN/CORBIS (EINSTEIN) COLOR PHOTO: RONALD C. MODRA (SZUMINSKI) SLIDE RULES TO SLIDERS Will Szuminski be MIT's first big leaguer?
COLOR PHOTO: CORBIS (ROCKET) COLOR PHOTO: GARY HOULDER/CORBIS (HAT)

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)