Szuminski has aerospace engineering degree

Updated: April 4, 2004, 6:30 PM ET
Associated Press

SAN DIEGO -- He's a rocket scientist and a right-hander. Ladies and gentlemen, wearing No. 58 for the San Diego Padres, Jason Szuminski, the first MIT graduate to reach the major leagues.

The relief pitcher made history for his prestigious alma mater late Saturday night when the Padres told him that he'd made their 25-man roster.

"I want to do more than just make it. I want to be able to pitch well and contribute to the team," said Szuminski (zoo-MIN-skee), who attracted quite a bit of attention during spring training because of his unique background.

He earned a degree in aerospace engineering in 2000 from MIT, which is much better known for brainpower than ballplayers. He's a first lieutenant in the Air Force and has worked on satellite programs. On Tuesday, a day after the Padres open the season at Los Angeles, he'll switch over to the active reserve.

And he can throw a pretty decent sinker.

"He came in with sort of a determined look and threw well all spring," manager Bruce Bochy said Sunday. "It's certainly something he's earned."

Szuminski's fellow pitchers seemed pleased that the 25-year-old from San Antonio made the club. But one thing's clear -- just because he's smart and a military man, he's still a rookie.

Fellow reliever Scott Linebrink offered his congratulations, then quickly added: "You've got the candy bag."

For the last few seasons, the Padres reliever with the least experience has to carry a pink Barbie backpack filled with candy, sunflower seeds and whatever else relievers like to have during games. The low man carries it out to the bullpen.

"But what's the bag going to look like?" Szuminski asked.

He'll find out soon enough.

"Anytime a guy makes a major league team for his first time, everybody's excited, but especially for Zoo, having him be the first guy from MIT and being a first lieutenant and being on our club, they're excited for him," Bochy said.

Bochy was asked if Szuminski outranked him. Bochy just smiled, because after all, he's the skipper.

"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 6-foot-4, 221-pound Szuminski is sure to look sharp in his camouflage jersey on military opening night on April 15, when the team salutes the area's large military population.

"Having all the Marines and Navy out here, they might heckle me, being an Air Force guy," said Szuminski, who was born in San Diego and is the son of a Navy fighter pilot. "I think it'll be a really neat experience."

Szuminski accepted an Air Force scholarship to go to MIT, where he went through the ROTC program. After graduation, he owed the Air Force four years of active duty. He's served just more than three.

"It was a great deal, and I just had no idea baseball was going to play out for me," Szuminski said. "Coming out of high school, I wanted to go play baseball at one of the big schools in Texas, where I was from, but it just wasn't adding up.

"I got into MIT and I got the Air Force scholarship and I thought, 'Man, this is too good of a deal.' I think if I had it all to do over again, I'd do the same thing."

Szuminski attracted the attention of a Chicago Cubs' scout during an MIT road trip to Florida one year. The Cubs drafted him in the 27th round of the 2000 amateur draft -- the 793rd player taken. Szuminski was able to cut a deal with the Air Force that allowed him to play ball during summers and then serve his commitment in the offseason.

"They're two different worlds that usually don't overlap much," he said.

The Padres picked him up in the winter-meeting draft in December.

Szuminski recently signed up for a three-for-one deal with the Air Force, in which he'll serve three years in the active reserve in exchange for the one year left of his active-duty commitment.

Szuminski previously worked on a satellite acquisition program. After this season, he'll report to the Air Force Research Lab at Edwards Air Force Base in the high desert east of Los Angeles, where he'll do advance research on new technologies.

"They actually call it the Rocket Lab out there at Edwards," he said.

And Szuminski is now a big league rocket man. In four minor league seasons, he was 23-12 with a 3.99 ERA, with 186 strikeouts and 110 walks.

Last year, he made the jump from Single-A to Triple-A.

"It's been an exciting ride," he said.

Szuminski said he applied the same drive and hard work to baseball that he used to get through MIT.

"Find a way to succeed," he said. "That's probably the biggest lesson I took away from school. I don't know how much classroom stuff I really remember, but you know, whether in the classroom or out of the classroom, you're presented with something


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press