Often called “The Smartest Man in Baseball,” Boston Red Sox reliever Craig Breslow is an ace of many trades. The lefty boasts a 2.91 career ERA in the majors, holds a degree from Yale (where he studied biochemistry and biophysics), and runs his own foundation, called Strike 3, which is dedicated to improving the lives of those affected by childhood cancers. But big league success wasn’t always a sure bet for the 33-year-old Breslow, a late-round draft pick who had to battle his way onto more than one roster. STACK sat down with the Ivy League grad and recent World Series winner to talk about how to balance sports and schoolwork, find the path that’s right for you, and persist through challenges to reach your goals.
STACK: You had a 4.55 GPA at Trumbull High School in Connecticut. Was school difficult for you or did those grades just come naturally?
Craig Breslow: Through high school, academics came pretty easily for me. Things just kind of intuitively made sense. I didn’t spend a ton of time studying outside of preparing for tests.
STACK: Your mother was a math teacher and your dad was involved in physical education. What did they teach you about being a successful student-athlete?
CB: School had a serious place in our household, but my parents also gave me the ability to determine my own schedule. It wasn’t so much that I needed to do my homework before I could go outside and play. They understood I was going to get both done, and that it was a lot easier to play baseball when it’s light out than after dinner when it’s dark.
STACK: How did you divvy up your time outside of school?
CB: My free time was largely spent playing sports. I grew up with one of my best friends two doors over and another friend less than a mile away and so almost every day after school we’d be playing something.
STACK: You were a pretty good soccer player, too. What made you decide that baseball was the sport you wanted to pursue?
CB: Well, my dad was actually a soccer coach and we were historically a soccer family, but being left-handed gave me a competitive advantage in baseball. It was my junior year in high school when things started to take off for me, and I showed that I could compete with the best competition when it came to baseball.
STACK: Why did you choose to attend Yale?
CB: I always thought that Yale, which was 30 minutes down the street [from where I grew up], was the place where a bunch of nerds went to school. Later it dawned on me that that wasn’t true, or that I was one of those nerds. I always [thought that I] wanted to get out of my own backyard, but New Haven is so distinct and it offered a good college experience for me.
STACK: How did you balance athletics and academics at Yale?
CB: Carefully. I think I was a better student in season than out of season. Innately, you kind of find a way to get all of your tasks done in the amount of time you have. If you are given longer periods of time, you just tend to work less.
STACK: At what point during your college career did you realize that the majors might be a real possibility?
CB: At no point. I was just hopeful to get drafted. I figured I would maybe get a chance to play professional baseball as a really late round draft pick, probably toil in the minor leagues for a couple of years and then go on to medical school.
STACK: And you did bounce around between six teams in the majors and various others in the minor leagues. Was there ever a time when you thought you should throw in the towel?
CB: Fortunately, I’ve always been hired one more time than I’ve been fired, but the closest I came was back in 2004, when I was released out of A-ball and I had no taste of major league baseball. Seeking advice, I spoke to a former Yale teammate of mine, Matt McCarthy, who moved on to Harvard Medical School after one year in the minors. I asked him how he knew it was time for him to move on. He told me that I should quit baseball and go on to med school if I was OK with never turning on the TV to watch a baseball game and questioning whether that could be me standing on the mound. I realized that I wasn’t ready to make that decision, so I went ahead and played independent ball. With some luck, I ended up finding myself in the big leagues.
STACK: Does that winding road make your 2013 World Series victory even sweeter?
CB: Everyone who puts on a baseball uniform at any point in their life thinks about winning the World Series. For me, [that championship] was the realization of an accomplishment that I’d set out for my entire life.