Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Two Aggies And A Trophy

Not one, but two Aggie grads have made the 2011 World Series, which begins Wednesday night.

The photo at left features Cardinals quantitative analyst Sig Mejdal and rookie infielder Daniel Descalso, hoisting the National League Championship Series trophy in Milwaukee.

By now, any Aggie fan who follows this blog (or doesn't, for that matter) knows about Descalso. In fact, you might know that Game 1 of the St. Louis-Texas series coincides with Descalso's 25th birthday, and you may even know that the 2007 ABCA All-West Region pick appeared on the KNBR radio show Murph and Mac Wednesday morning.

Unless you read my UC Davis Magazine piece a year ago, fewer of you are familiar with Sig Mejdal. However, you should be: the hit Bennett Miller movie Moneyball opened strong last month, so the adaptation of the fine Michael Lewis book has reopened the eyes of baseball fans to these behind-the-scenes mathematical masterminds. In essence, Mejdal is a real-life version of Jonah Hill's Peter Brand character (who, in turn, was based on the actual A's assistant GM Paul DePodesta). He creates computerized models to help predict how well a baseball prospect's previous performance will translate to major league success.

But while both the fictional Brand and real DePodesta honed their respective analytical skills at Ivy League schools, Mejdal combined his life-long love of baseball with an education received in the shadow of our university's iconic water towers. He graduated from UC Davis in 1989 with a degree in mechanical and aeronautical engineering.

In fact, Mejdal cites Lewis' bestseller for inspiring him to leave his beloved NASA research to enter the baseball industry: "It was definitely Moneyball. I was involved with the research but I had no idea that the A's were using it up north from me. It never entered my mind that teams were interested in this or using this until Moneyball," said Mejdal in his interview for the UC Davis Magazine story.

As a front-office staffer whose work has more to do with future Cardinals than present ones, Mejdal does not typically travel with the team. However, he made sure not to miss Game 5 of the NLDS series in Philadelphia, and he surely wasn't about to skip out on Game 6 at Miller Park.

When Descalso ended up on the Cardinals' wish list (he ended up going to St. Louis in the third round of the 2007 draft), Mejdal says he took some good-natured needling from his colleagues. "I was excited to get a UC Davis guy but I have to remain objective at all times," he said. "Some of the scouts were kidding me, saying 'you love him because you're from Davis, right?'"

Descalso's Aggie roots may not have appeared on Mejdal's spreadsheets, but it certainly showed up in this photo (which Mejdal sent to me this morning) As both a UC Davis grad and a baseball fan, I'm glad they got to share this moment.

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