Mike Fitzgerald ‘11 was a four-year member and captain of the MIT Football team who has masterfully melded his academic and athletic background into a career in sports analytics.
Fitzgerald found a calling in the world of professional sports during his time at MIT working with the Boston Celtics, and has continued working in the world of sports post graduation with stops at ESPN and the Pittsburgh Pirates. Currently, the Course 18 (Math) graduate is working as the Director of Research & Development for the Arizona Diamondbacks.
If you can recall, why did you choose to attend MIT?
I remember getting a phone call from my mom about the “big envelope” coming in the mail and it honestly just seemed like a no-brainer from that point forward. I will say this though, had MIT not had a football team, I don’t think I would have enrolled. That may sound insane, but I was pretty dead set on wanting to have football be an option as an outlet for me, to help me better manage the stress that comes along with a heavy academic workload. Looking back on my time at MIT, I don’t think I would have graduated without football, it truly did offer me an outlet, while also reinforcing the need for a schedule and a plan, it helped me create a process, one that definitely helped me survive academically.
What is your current job title and what does that position entail?
Director, R&D...basically our group's job is to translate data into actionable information for different members of our baseball operations group to use effectively. We’re also kind of the baseball operations think-tank of sorts, where we look to constantly challenge our current processes with the hopes of improving our decision making capabilities, either in the form of accuracy or time.
How did your athletic involvement aid in the path that you chose following graduation?
Pretty directly…I always felt like sports played a significant role in my personal development, as many of the values that I have now can be traced back to learning them through athletics. I knew once I was done playing competitively that I was going to have a pretty big void in my life, and so I tried to find the next best thing to playing. Initially I thought long and hard about pursuing a coaching career, but then realized that analytics in sports was gaining some momentum and figured that was a better way to maximize both my passion and the intellectual skill set I had worked on developing at MIT.
What would you say were your greatest athletic and academic accomplishments during your time at MIT?
Athletically: I decided to come back for a 5th season (had a medical redshirt from my sophomore year) and was named captain by my teammates for that final season. Also, after that final season, got a chance to play in the D3 Senior Classic, on the same team as my cousin, who I had always only played against growing up, from Pop Warner, to high school to even college (he went to Framingham State), so it was really cool to have the final game either of us would play be for the same North squad. The game was down in Salem, VA, our dads and uncles got to make the trip with us and we all had a blast. Academically: I definitely am not the MIT poster child for academic success…with that being said, I was able to create my own UROP that revolved around an internship I did with the Celtics during my junior year (it was a 6 credit UROP that I probably spent 50+ hours a week on ha). Granted, I look back at some of the things I did during that internship and think “wow, that’s pretty underwhelming work you produced” ha, but without that opportunity to ask stupid questions, make incomplete assumptions, and learn from my mistakes, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
What is your most fond memory of MIT athletics?
Probably the last game my grandfather got to see me play, and then the first game after he passed…the last game he saw me play he had to bring an oxygen tank with him, he watched from the top of the now demolished parking garage with the rest of my family. The last game he saw me play was actually our home opener on the new turf field in 2008. Midway through the first quarter, Coach Po called a play action bootleg where I was running a backside post, and Rick Mancuso threw a perfect jump ball for the score, got to run off the field pointing up to my grandfather on top of the garage after the TD which was pretty special. Then two weekends later, we were playing Nichols at home in the rain, my grandfather had passed two days earlier (and was actually buried in my MIT Football #10 jersey believe it or not), we were trailing by 14 points to start the fourth quarter, but ending up scoring two TD in the final quarter. Unfortunately, we missed the PAT on the first and didn’t convert on the two-point try on the second, so with 14 seconds left we were down 42-40 and it came down to a FG try for the win. Pete Gilliland nailed it, in what felt like a monsoon, which gave Coach Smith his 100th victory and also put us at 3-1 which was the best start in school history at the time. It was pretty surreal.
What was your favorite non-athletics activity at MIT?
One thing that I enjoyed very much as a student, and have continued to enjoy since graduation, is the Sloan Sports Conference (kind of cheating since it’s athletics related). I remember attending the conference in its second year when it was held in the classrooms at Stata, with no more than 150 people in attendance. It’s wild to see what it has evolved into now. Also, the fraternity I joined, despite us not surviving through my senior year, ended up being a catalyst (in addition to football) for several friendships I still have today. Granted nearly all of those guys were also athletes, but there was more cross-sport interaction than I probably would have exposed myself to otherwise. This question also ties back to my advice to current student-athletes though, I do wish I had experimented more with exploring research opportunities or extracurriculars.
What piece of advice would you have for current MIT student-athletes?
Get involved and experiment…it’s easy to make excuses about practice and school work dominating your schedules, but when you find something you’re passionate about you’ll find a way to make it work, and most of the time you can pull it off without having to make significant sacrifices to sports or school. The difficult part can be figuring out what you can be enthusiastic about, and that’s where the experimenting comes into play.
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