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]."