Yale graduates have long made their living in parks. Lee Bass ’79 was appointed chair of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in 1995. Richard Gilder ’54 is a founding trustee of the Central Park conservancy. Robert Moses 1909, one of the great shapers of the modern city, was chairman of the Long Island Parks Commission.
But Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres? That’s a new one.
Nevertheless, it is the fate of Craig Breslow ’02. The former Yale captain and lefthander was called up to the big leagues July 22 after three-plus seasons in the minors.
Now entrenched in the Padres’ bullpen after another brief stint in the minors, Breslow is looking like he belongs — although he did not always seem destined for pro baseball.
Growing up in Trumbull, Conn., Breslow divided his time between baseball and soccer.
“I thought about playing [soccer] at Yale but decided it was probably better to focus on baseball,” he said. “Playing two sports and maintaining studies would have been a bit much for me. I definitely have a huge appreciation for anyone who can do it.”
As it was, Breslow — a molecular biophysics and biochemistry major — did just fine with school and baseball.
Breslow baffled Ivy bats for four seasons, including an All-Ivy junior year that included a 16-strikeout gem against Cornell and a one-hit shutout at Harvard — “the single most exciting game I pitched in college,” he said.
Yale lost its remaining three games that weekend, but Breslow’s performance earned him Ivy League Pitcher of the Week honors.
“Craig is the consummate competitor,” said Matt McCarthy ’02, Breslow’s former teammate and lab partner, now in his third year at Harvard Medical School. “In college, he’d look forward to pitching the first game of the weekend because he knew that’s when the other team would send it’s best pitcher to the mound. He’s always relished the opportunity to face the stiffest competition possible.”
In the spring of their senior year, Breslow and McCarthy — who was also a lefthanded pitcher — were drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers and the former Anaheim Angels, respectively. Both were assigned to minor league affiliates in the Pioneer League, where Breslow’s Ogden Raptors and McCarthy’s Provo Angels faced off constantly.
“We played each other 19 times and even got to pitch in the same games at the same time against each other,” McCarthy said. “My teammates would ask me for a scouting report on Craig, but I really wasn’t much help. To anyone who’d ask, I’d say, ‘He’s got a great fastball, a great curve ball, and a great change up. Be ready to hit when you get up there because he throws them all for strikes.’ Needless to say, Craig carved up our hitters every time out and gave up only one run against us in 24 innings … The ultimate compliment probably came when my manager in the minors looked at me after one of Craig’s innings and said, ‘That kid really knows how to pitch.'”
Milwaukee brass did not share the Provo manager’s assessment, however. What now seems like a meteoric rise for Breslow was nearly derailed in the Brewers’ system, where he was never promoted above Class A.
But the pink slip Milwaukee dealt Breslow in summer 2004 proved to be a blessing. After a stint with the New Jersey Jackals of the Independent League, during which he was accepted to medical school, Breslow began to consider a life without baseball, but Jackals manager Joe Calfapietra pushed him to try out for San Diego during the winter.
On July 23 Breslow was called up from AA Mobile (Ala.) and pitched 1.2 scoreless innings, striking out the first two batters he faced.
“It was probably the most unbelievable feeling I’ve ever had,” Breslow said. “I’m still not able to put it into words. Walking out to the mound in front of 40,000 people — I’ve said to a couple of reporters now — everything felt like it was going 100 miles per hour but standing still at the same time. It wasn’t until I sat in the dugout that I realized I had just pitched in the big leagues. I just kind of relied on everything I’d been doing my whole life. Fortunately, everything worked out well.”
John Stuper, Yale’s manager and a former major league pitcher himself, was thrilled to watch his protege on the ultimate stage.
“It’s pretty amazing,” Stuper said on the Yale Athletics Web site. “He gets released by the Brewers and the next thing you know he is called up to the big leagues. I’m as proud as I’ve ever been as a coach. It’s a proud moment for Yale baseball and it proves that you can get a great education and also realize some of your athletic dreams.”
Though Breslow was sent down immediately after the game, he was recalled for a second brief stint in August and a third when rosters expanded Sept. 1. Entering play yesterday, Breslow had not allowed an earned run in five September appearances, trimming his earned run average to a mere 1.50.
Still, the ride with the Padres, who will win the National League West and reach the playoffs barring an unforeseen disaster, has not been without a little friendly hazing.
“Everything is always in good fun,” Breslow said. “It’s a great bunch of guys I got here — very welcoming. They definitely give me s— about coming from Yale. [They say,] ‘What are you doing here? You’re a scientist. Go make drugs.’ But they’re quick to point out that it’s all out of jealousy.”
But overall, it has been smooth sailing for Breslow, who “couldn’t be happier” than he is right now. Meanwhile McCarthy, who is preparing for a career in scientific research, tries to live vicariously through the newest Padre.
“We talk every few days,” he said. “I usually just pepper him with questions like, ‘What’s the scouting report on Bonds or what was it like to face Griffey?’ He handles it all in stride. That’s probably one of his greatest strengths — nothing seems to faze him.”