A former Cornell foe tries to become one of the few Ivy Leaguers in Major League Baseball
Photo by Ben Zedner,
Lake County Sentinel
[[image|id=107|align=right]]EASTLAKE, OH- Aside from being baseball stadiums, Hoy Field and Classic Park have little in common. The Cornell Big Red call the former home while the latter hosts the Lake County Captains, a Class A affiliate of the Cleveland Indians. Few players ever have the chance to play on both. One, former Princeton infielder and current Lake County Captain Dan DeGeorge, played his last collegiate game in Ithaca during last year’s Gehrig Division title game. On Monday night, he reminisced about his Ancient Eight days and reflected on his new life in the minor leagues.
“It’s a cakewalk,” DeGeorge said about the minor leagues before the game against the Rome (Ga.) Braves. His comment came without a touch of arrogance. After all, here was DeGeorge, suiting up for a game in front of over 5,000 people, saddled only with the task of playing baseball on a picture perfect August evening, a stark contrast to his college days.
DeGeorge’s Princeton team often played their Ivy League contests in winter-like conditions before only a few hardy fans, only to hit the books after the last out. The weather, coupled with the schoolwork and Ivy League prohibition against athletic scholarships, often drives elite talent away from the Ivies.
After finishing his Ivy League career, DeGeorge went undrafted. Nonetheless, he knew that he still wanted to pursue baseball, an ambition he had even before matriculating. As the summer began, DeGeorge contemplated playing in independent leagues, a last resort for ballplayers looking to be noticed by major league clubs, especially since few scouts follow these unaffiliated circuits.
Luckily for DeGeorge, the phone rang while he was tending the grill during a backyard cookout. The Indians offered him a contract and a chance to be one of the few Ivy Leaguers to play professional baseball. DeGeorge described himself as “pretty pumped” upon receiving the Indians’ call.
When asked about the other Captains’ reactions to his Princeton pedigree, DeGeroge smiled as he replied, “You kind of mumble it when you mention it” but emphasized that his alma mater has not affected his relationship with his teammates. Coincidentally or not, Cleveland general manager Mark Shapiro also graduated from Princeton.
After two weeks in the Arizona Rookie League, the Indians promoted DeGeorge to Lake County where he has been playing for the last month, hitting .182 in 22 South Atlantic League games. While DeGeorge is still a long way from joining the ranks of current Ivy Leaguers turned Major Leaguers, Brad Ausmus (Dartmouth), Ross Ohlendorf (Princeton) and Mark DeRosa (Pennsylvania) among them, his work ethic has served him well so far. Captains manager Aaron Holbert praised DeGeorge for being “willing to listen and working everyday with the coaches and himself.”
On this night, DeGeorge started the game on the bench as he had in many recent games. In the seventh inning with his team leading 15-0, Holbert called on DeGeorge to pinch-hit for leadoff man Mark Thompson. Rome pitcher Paul Clemens had just surrendered a grand slam to the Captains’ Donnie Webb after two hits and a walk to start the inning. DeGeorge took two balls before making solid contact on a belt high fast ball. The Braves’ Calvin Culver ran down the drive in deep center field for the inning’s first out. Seven of the next eight Captains reached base, giving DeGeorge another chance in the seventh. This time though, he swung at the first pitch, popping up to second base. DeGeorge finished the night 0 for 2.
Playing second base in the ninth inning, DeGeorge exhibited some nifty fielding prowess, catching a toss from shortstop to force out Rome’s Joel Campusano at second before deftly avoiding the sliding Campusano and making a flawless throw to first. While the runner beat the relay, DeGeorge executed a tricky play without flinching or hesitating.
After the game, Holbert noted that with his slick glove work and some time spent improving his swing, DeGeorge can advance through the Cleveland organization. Holbert predicted that DeGeorge would either be a starting infielder at Lake County next year or graduate to the Indians' high Class A club in Kinston, North Carolina.
Should DeGeorge not reach the major leagues, he said he would love to be a general manager or work somewhere around baseball. His Ivy League education (DeGeorge majored in economics) would certainly serve him well in that regard. In addition to Cleveland’s Shapiro, there are several Ivy League baseball executives today including Texas general manager John Daniels, Boston general manager Theo Epstein and San Diego’s front-office assitant Paul DePodesta, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ former general manager. The three graduated from Cornell, Yale and Harvard respectively.
For now though, DeGeorge is enjoying one of the few careers not readily available to Ivy League graduates. Even though he has been relegated to a reserve role with Lake County, he has stayed upbeat, relishing his time in professional baseball. Standing outside the Captains’ clubhouse with a pristine diamond and setting sun behind him, DeGeroge said simply, “I’m just happy to be playing and am loving every minute.”