Are you smarter than a Mets' 5th starter?
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PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - When Chris Young was asked to quantify the value of his Princeton education as it relates to baseball, perhaps the most tangible part of that curriculum was the two years of Spanish he took at the Ivy League institution.
"I don't consider myself fluent," Young said, "but it's never been an issue. If I have a catcher that doesn't speak English, I can speak enough to communicate."
That's not to downplay the merit of Young's degree in politics, especially from a school like Princeton. But it's difficult to pinpoint how much a pitcher can carry with him from the classroom to the mound, or if being book-smart helps make a baseball unhittable.
The Mets presumably will be conducting their own ERA vs. GPA experiment this season as it pertains to the starting rotation. The No. 3 starter is R.A. Dickey, formerly an English literature major at the University of Tennessee. Young is penciled in at No. 4, and Chris Capuano, who graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Duke, is the favorite for No. 5.
Capuano majored in economics - inspired by his father, a financial adviser - but also minored in biological anthropology and anatomy, a nod to his childhood aspirations.
"When I was younger, I can remember wanting to be a doctor," he said. "I always liked the sciences."
That continued through high school, and when Capuano turned down the Pirates after getting drafted in the 44th round his senior year, his academic drive kept pace with his passion for baseball. Capuano graduated from Duke with a 3.86 GPA and believes the analytical skills that helped him in the classroom remain useful in his current profession.
As Capuano describes his days now, they don't sound much different from plotting out a course schedule or budgeting hours for study groups and lab work.
"I take a lot of time planning everything - I plan my workouts, I plan my nutrition, my sleep, everything that goes into my preparation for the game," Capuano said. "There's a lot of identifying your long-term goals, and the short-term ones that are going to get you there."
That discipline, the kind that can be traced to any successful academic history, was part of the attraction for general manager Sandy Alderson, himself a graduate of Dartmouth and Harvard Law. Alderson already knew Young from their days in San Diego, and Capuano's similar background, at least in terms of higher education, enhanced his pitching ability.
"If you look at them both, neither one is throwing 95 mph," Alderson said. "They have to do the little things in order to be successful - whether that's pitch sequence, whether it's location, whether it's understanding their mechanics and knowing how to make adjustments, so it certainly does come into play.
"They're not relying exclusively on inherent ability. They're relying on their capacity to maximize their physical ability because of their mental approach to the game."
Young agrees with Alderson's take but doesn't think the Princeton label is something that stands out in a major-league clubhouse. It's not as though his framed degree is hanging in his locker stall, or as Alderson said, "You don't see Chris walking around using big words."
Said Young, "I blend in. I don't sit at my locker and read books, or give speeches on world peace. I'm a baseball player."
And it's not as if a player's education ends when school does. Dickey, an avid reader, had a stack of books in his locker during last season, and Capuano laughed at the notion that his IQ suffers when he shows up at the stadium.
"I wouldn't discount the mental energy it takes to play this game at a high level," Capuano said, "especially now with all the video, all the data we have, analyzing our own performance or scouting opponents. It certainly is not shutting your brain down.
"And when we're here, there's a lot of intelligent, thoughtful people in the clubhouse, and we have discussion on all subjects. I don't really feel like I'm just grunting through the day."