Yale Bulletin and Calendar

June 29, 2001Volume 29, Number 33Four-Week Issue

Jon Steitz

Yale pitcher is grabbed in draft's early rounds

Yale junior Jon Steitz has long been a fan of the New York Yankees, but he's beginning to think of himself as a Milwaukee Brewers guy.

A pitcher for Yale's varsity baseball team, Steitz was picked by the Brewers in the third round of the Major League Baseball draft on June 5 and signed his contract with the club on June 21. He is the highest draft selection for a Yale player since Dan Lock was taken in the second round of the 1994 draft. The only Yale player ever taken in the first round was Ron Darling, who was drafted in 1981 by the Texas Rangers.

For Steitz -- the son of Yale science professors Thomas and Joan Steitz, both Sterling Professors of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry -- being drafted by a major league team was the realization of a dream he's had since he was a young Little League player. He first started playing baseball around the age of 6 and continued the sport throughout his years growing up in Branford, Connecticut.

"He's always been passionate about baseball," says Joan Steitz. "We knew [his draft into professional baseball] was coming and know it was what he fervently wanted to do since before coming to Yale, so we are delighted for him."

At Yale, Steitz was an honorable mention All-Ivy pick last season. He finished the season with a 2-4 record and a 2.66 earned-run average, which ranked him third in the Ivy League and second on the Yale team. He struck out 81 batters in 64.1 innings, placing him 17th in the nation in strikeouts per nine innings and first in the league in strikeouts. In Yale's victory over Princeton on March 31, the right-handed Steitz demonstrated his talent by pitching a complete game seven-hitter while striking out 14 batters.

As a rookie member of the Brewers' organization, Steitz expects to spend a few weeks playing for a Brewers' minor league affiliate in Ogden, Utah, and then hopes to be placed on one of the organization's single-A teams. "I probably won't be playing for the major league team until the 2003 season at the earliest," he says. One benefit of joining a National League team, which requires its pitchers to bat during games, is that "I can ask for batting practice," says Steitz, who by all accounts is also a competent hitter.

While the decision to play professionally was an easy one for Steitz, he says that he does regret that he won't be able to finish up his Yale career on campus so he can graduate with his classmates. (He can finish his remaining credits elsewhere to earn his Yale degree or complete coursework at Yale sometime in the future.) His parents agree that this is one of the drawbacks of having him sign with a professional team at this point in his educational career.

"But we think it's great that he has the opportunity to follow his dream," says Tom Steitz.

At Yale, the younger Steitz is majoring in his parents' field of molecular biophysics and biochemistry. "I haven't really known anything else," his says of his decision to choose that field over other science majors. His parents have achieved international renown in the field: Tom Steitz for his research using X-ray crystallography to study the molecular structure of proteins and nucleic acids and Joan Steitz for her research in molecular genetics.

Of his son's choice to put scientific study on hold to pursue a career in baseball, Tom Steitz says, "It's always amazing how the next generation wants to do something different."

He notes, however, that if all goes well, his son will be ,in his native city of Milwaukee. "I have brothers and sisters who live in Wisconsin, so they are excited about the prospect of Jon playing there," the Yale scientist says.

Both parents admit the only baseball teams they ever rooted for were the ones their son played on. In fact, until Jon began playing the sport, Joan Steitz says she had never set foot in a baseball stadium, and her husband could count his visits on a couple of fingers. Quips Tom Steitz, "It took Joan a long time to call runs 'runs' instead of 'points'; she'd say, 'Jon, how many points did your team get today?'" He adds, however, that they have attended nearly all of their son's games, and will certainly feel allegiance to his new team.

In the past few years, a number of Yale baseball players have been drafted by professional teams, but news of Steitz' early pick in the draft was particularly exciting for Yale, says Thomas Beckett, director of athletics.

"Clearly, having Jon drafted so high is a source of pride for all of us," Beckett says. "He's a local student who believed in Yale -- who wanted a world-class education and a baseball team where he could really develop his skill, so he choose to stay close to home to come here. He's a very talented young man with lots of potential, and we wish him all the best."

-- By Susan Gonzalez


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