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Once a physicist: Craig Breslow

Craig Breslow is a US professional baseball player who has pitched for five Major League teams, including the Minnesota Twins and Oakland Athletics. He joined his new club, the Arizona Diamondbacks, in December 2011

Craig Breslow

Why did you decide to study biophysics and biochemistry?
My interest is part legitimate and part default. Both parents of a good friend of mine, Jon Steitz – who was also, at the time, a fellow incoming freshman baseball player at Yale University – are professors in that field and notable scientists (Jon's father Thomas Steitz shared the 2009 Nobel Prize for Chemistry). When discussing potential majors, science became an obvious choice. However, I have also been interested in medicine for as long as I can remember, and given that Yale has no "pre-med" major, choosing a science allowed me to meet all of the medical-school requirements. In retrospect, I am grateful I made the choice I did, because I'm not sure that a superficial look into organic processes (as would have been the case in a general biology or chemistry major) would have been sufficient for my inquisitive mind. I needed the details only seen on a molecular level.

How did you get interested in baseball?
I have been playing baseball for nearly my entire life. I grew up in a small town with a team that won the Little League World Series in 1989 and, while that team was a few years ahead of me, the dream of first getting to Williamsport [where the Little League series is held] and then to the Major League certainly shaped my childhood. I'm not sure if I loved baseball because I was good at it, or if I was good at it because I loved it, but I would definitely say that there is a correlation.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?
My Major League debut on 23 July 2005 at Citizens Bank Ballpark in Philadelphia and the subsequent strikeouts of Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard in that game stick out quite vividly. I had been released from the Milwaukee Brewers less than a year before, and had overcome some significant odds to make it to the big leagues as a senior out of the Ivy League. My first outing with the Minnesota Twins, which took place in the Metrodome against the Yankees, also comes to mind. I began the outing by striking out Bobby Abreu and Alex Rodriguez, and retired all five of the batters I faced – the number 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 hitters of that powerful line-up.

How (if at all) has your background in physics helped in your career?
I am asked this question quite often – not necessarily about physics specifically, but more about whether being "smart" has helped my career. I'm sure in some respects it has, but I often subscribe to the "keep it simple, stupid" theory. I have found myself at times becoming overly analytical and trying to reduce pitching to its simplest form and, in the off season, I do admit to analysing video and looking for inefficiencies in the kinematic system that is my delivery.

You do a lot of work with a paediatric-cancer charity, the Strike 3 Foundation. How did you come to be involved with that?
My sister Lesley is a paediatric-cancer survivor, and her diagnosis, treatment and subsequent cure have stuck with me for more than 15 years. I thought my impact on the medical community would be made as a doctor, but my work with Strike 3 has allowed me to remain connected to the medical field while also realizing my dream of playing baseball in the Major League. To date, Strike 3 has raised nearly $1m for paediatric-cancer research and treatment.

What are your goals for next season?
My goal each year is pretty simple: to help my team win. I set some personal goals that I keep to myself, but, mostly, I try to improve each year – try to be a greater asset to my team this year than I was last. I feel like if I can achieve that, I will always be in a good place.

Any advice for today's physics students?
The one thing that I wish I could have appreciated at a younger age (when I was a high school or university student) is that physics is all around us. There is very little that happens each day that cannot be explained by the laws of physics: motion, time, travel. I think I would have been an even better physics student if I had understood that the application of simple laws could help answer questions for the rest of my life.

This article appears in the February 2012 issue of Physics World

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