USAF Lt Makes the team in Baseball




 
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April 6th, 2004  
BunYap
 

Topic: USAF Lt Makes the team in Baseball


Pitcher Jason Szuminski is more than the first MIT grad to reach the major leagues. The 25-year-old is also the first active member of the Armed Forces to be on a major league roster since ... well, the truth is, no one, including Major League Baseball, knows for sure.

The last one could have been Padres announcer Jerry Coleman, who was technically still in the Marines when he rejoined the Yankees following the end of the Korean War.

Szuminski made the Padres' final cut as a Rule 5 draft pick out of the Chicago Cubs organization. He was actually drafted by Kansas City, but the Royals and Padres swapped Rule 5 picks the day of the draft.

Szuminski had a 3.95 ERA in a team-leading 13 appearances this spring.

In addition to holding a degree in aerospace engineering from MIT, Szuminski is a first lieutenant in the Air Force. He joined the Air Force ROTC program out of high school as a way of paying for his studies at MIT.

"I'm proud of my Air Force ties," said Szuminski, who is officially on leave as part of the military's sports program, designed to give members of the Armed Forces a chance to compete in major events such as the Olympics. But several graduates of military academies -- most recently the NBA's David Robinson (Navy) and the NFL's Chad Hennings (Air Force) -- have used the military sports program as an entry into professional sports.

Szuminski is the first baseball player to reach the majors through the plan.

"I actually wrote my own program," said Szuminski. "It was a tough puzzle to solve because these are two different worlds that usually don't overlap. I wasn't trying to scam a deal. I think a lot of the Air Force and the opportunity the ROTC program provided me. It was the best deal I could have received. It gave me an education plus a very good guaranteed job."

Szuminski is interested in how his position can help the Air Force.

"I'm not trying to groom kids to join the Air Force and play ball," he said. "But I think the Air Force is a great career opportunity for a lot of people. There must be something we can work on in recruiting."

Padres manager Bruce Bochy said the strange combination of being an MIT grad and an active member of the Air Force had a lot of Padres pulling for Szuminski this spring. "We're all excited for him because he went to a non-traditional baseball school and the military thing ... he made history for MIT," said Bochy.

Szuminski's most recent job with the Air Force was last winter when he was assigned to the Space and Missile Command at the Los Angeles Air Force Base in El Segundo and Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert. He was slotted in a Major's position as part of the advanced research and development team working to procure high-frequency communication satellites.

Szuminski's official position in the Air Force changes Tuesday (April 6). He is trading the last year he owes to active duty for three years in the reserves. He is scheduled to be promoted to captain next year.

Szuminski said he'd like to be announced as First Lieutenant Jason Szuminski during the Padres' traditional Military Opening Day, scheduled for April 15.

"I'm very aware of San Diego's ties to the military," he said. "My only concern is that this is a Navy and Marine town and they might heckle me."