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Doug Glanville: From The Ivy League To Center Field

Doug Glanville played the majority of his career with the Philadelphia Phillies, his favorite team when he was growing up.
Jed Jacobsohn
Getty Images
Doug Glanville played the majority of his career with the Philadelphia Phillies, his favorite team when he was growing up.

When Doug Glanville played with the Chicago Cubs, his teammates called him the "rocket scientist."

Glanville, a major league center fielder for nine seasons (including two with the Cubs,) isn't a rocket scientist -- but he did take a different path to the majors than most of his teammates. Before he was drafted in 1996, he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in systems engineering.

In an interview on Fresh Air with contributor Dave Davies, Glanville admits that once he got to the big leagues, his Ivy League diploma wasn't as much of an advantage as he had thought it would be.

"You realize fairly quickly, at the professional level, that you have to have moments where you sort of blank. You're not thinking. You're not calculating. You're just in a space where you have to perform and react and trust your instincts. Yes, you can use the engineering to prepare," he says. "But when it comes down to it, you have to react to that ball because you have a split second to make a decision."

Glanville spent most of his major league career with the Philadelphia Phillies, where he batted a career high .325 in 1999. He says he enjoyed playing the center field position because of the perspective it gave him on the game. It also allowed him to hear hecklers, who would lean over the outfield wall in Veteran's Stadium and yell their thoughts down to the players.

"My favorite comment was from a guy who ... realized I was an engineer who had written a paper about building a new stadium in Philadelphia," Glanville says. "So I was really struggling when I first came over to Philly in 1998, struggling and hitting like .190 so the guy yelled out 'Why don't you design a stadium you can hit in?'"

Glanville didn't have to worry: he finished his major league career with 1,100 hits and a career .277 batting average. His new book, The Game from Where I Stand, is an inside look at the culture of professional baseball -- from how to pack your bag after you've been cut from a roster to how to manage romantic relationships while traveling for half the year.

Glanville writes guest columns about baseball for The New York Times and is a baseball analyst for ESPN.

Interview Highlights

On feeling different as a baseball player who went to an Ivy League school

"Now the interesting thing [about feeling different] is that it started when I first got drafted. ... I think of the movie Bull Durham, where Crash Davis is talking to the main character who's played by Tim Robbins, and he says, 'You have fungus in your shower shoes. And in the minor leagues, you're a slob and in the big leagues, they can consider you colorful.' So I think the fact that I was different, with this academic background that's maybe not associated with professional athletes, that became something that was very much of a unique interest level for major league baseball. For minor league, you're the alien in the room more so -- but it was interesting how it changed over the years and became more and more something positive."

On why he was grateful to have spent five seasons in the minor leagues

"If I was drafted and went to major league baseball [right out of the draft,] very quickly I would have been an engineer right away. I feel like there are a lot of components to baseball -- you can master one aspect but then there are other aspects you have to conquer. You have to be a solid base runner. You have to play defense. You have to hit the curve ball. So there's so many elements of it, where you could excel and maybe be major-league caliber when drafted, but fairly soon -- as you climb the ladder and up the ranks -- you'll get exploited for other things you don't do, and that's the beauty of baseball. It's a day-to-day exchange."

On playing center field

"Center field was very personal to me. It was a marriage made in heaven. I always was an observer. I always had this panoramic view of everything. And center field affords you that opportunity. You're in the outfield. You're in the grass. You can roam free. You are the captain of the outfield but also you see everything going on in front of you, from where the catcher is setting up, where the shortstop's moving, where my Dad is sitting in the stands. You really have this perspective and see everything that the game affords."

On why he always entered the batting box with his head down

"It was a ritual. When you lead off a game, one of my teammates used to say 'You go, we go.' You are the spark. You start the engine. And you need to get into a sort of spiritual space to start off a great game, something that's watched and many people are about to participate in -- and that you're trying to win. So I used to do that as a sort of tone-setter to figure out 'OK. Where am I?' And get my mind clear and then get started."

On chatting with the other team while standing on the field

"I think it parallels how our country is run. You have sort of federal mandates and you have state mandates. State mandates are something like talking at first base, which is team by team. So some teams are like 'OK. You can talk a little bit.' Other teams are not that friendly with it. I know the Cubs, when I first came up, were not into fraternization. They didn't like it. So when you had to run in the outfield when you were warming up, you had to run out at an angle or towards the fence because they didn't want you to connect with the other team from the other foul line. Now, when it came to conversation -- what did we talk about at first? It was mostly idle chatter. If you got a hit, you're feeling pretty good, so you're looking for some sort of acknowledgment from the first baseman. But you don't have a lot of time over there at first base, especially if you're a base stealer, like myself, so you gotta get ready to take that bag, to steal that base. So you don't have time for too many pleasantries."

Copyright 2023 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

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