SURPRISE, Ariz. -- After a long, hot day at the diamond, some spring training roommates retreat to their apartments and unwind by watching college hoops or the latest Netflix fare. Kansas City Royals pitchers Chris Young and Ross Ohlendorf, who are sharing a place in the Phoenix suburb of Goodyear this spring, are partial to "Shark Tank,'' the reality show that gives budding entrepreneurs an opportunity to pitch ideas to business moguls in exchange for investment seed money.
"That's our go-to show,'' Ohlendorf says. "It's cool seeing new products. And I like the business strategy, from both a company and investor standpoint.''
Throw two Princeton alumni with inquisitive minds and some free time together in the Cactus League, and the leisure viewing material is bound to be thought-provoking. No "Toddlers and Tiaras'' for these guys.
The eclectic mix on Kansas City's roster this spring reflects general manager Dayton Moore's willingness to explore every avenue for players who can contribute to the cause. Kris Medlen, Peter Moylan and Mike Minor, former Atlanta Braves whose careers have been sidetracked by injuries, all landed in Kansas City, in part because Moore and manager Ned Yost are so diligent about keeping tabs on their former organization.
In the same corner of the clubhouse, the Royals have brought together Young and Ohlendorf, Ivy Leaguers who bring competitiveness and experience to the mound while doing wonders for the collective clubhouse IQ.
Young, 36, re-signed with Kansas City on a two-year, $11.75 million contract in December and is ticketed for a job as a swing man or the team's fifth starter. Ohlendorf, 33, signed a minor-league deal with the Royals in February and is competing for a spot in the bullpen with Dillon Gee, Brian Flynn, Brian Duensing, John Lannan, Chien-Ming Wang, Peter Moylan and David Huff.
The two pitchers played at Princeton for coach Scott Bradley, a former big-league catcher who is entering his 19th season on the New Jersey campus. Cleveland Indians general manager Mike Chernoff and outfielder Will Venable and Colorado Rockies pitcher David Hale are fellow Princeton alumni who are on the scene in the Cactus League this spring.
Understandably, some of Young and Ohlendorf's teammates are bowled over by the sight of all that brainpower crammed into adjoining locker stalls. Princeton has produced the likes of President Woodrow Wilson, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman, former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos and Supreme Court justices Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor and Samuel Alito. With Young and Ohlendorf in the fold, the Royals have exceeded their Ivy League allotment.
"We have a good mix of book smarts and street smarts here,'' says Moylan, a native of Australia. "I grew up in the school of hard knocks, and they grew up in a school with, well, lots of school and teaching.''
Joked pitcher Kris Medlen: "We get into some pretty deep conversations. Neil deGrasse Tyson was in here the other day talking about quantum physics.''
Love those SAT scores
Young, a Dallas native, scored ''1300-something'' on his SATs in the days when 1600 was the standard. As a two-sport athlete playing baseball and basketball, he chose Princeton over Vanderbilt, Texas, Oklahoma, Boston College and fellow Ivies Yale and Pennsylvania.
Young played both sports for Princeton until Pittsburgh selected him in the third round of the 2000 Major League Baseball first-year player draft, and he continued to work toward a political science degree while spending summers as a pitcher in the Pirates' chain. Young wrote his senior thesis on how the media helped shape public opinion during Jackie Robinson's quest to integrate Major League Baseball with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.
Ohlendorf, a product of Austin, Texas, logged a 1520 out of a possible 1600 on his SATs. When he visited Princeton on his recruiting trip in 2001, Young -- by then an upperclassman -- showed him around the campus and opened his eyes to the possibilities that awaited him as an elite student-athlete.
After the Arizona Diamondbacks selected him in the fourth round of the 2004 draft, Ohlendorf returned to Princeton and obtained his degree in Operations Research and Financial Engineering. He wrote his senior thesis on the MLB first-year player draft and its financial impact on the game from 1989-1993. The paper ran about 140 pages -- "if you include the graphs," he says.
In tandem, the two pitchers have made 368 big-league appearances and belied the stereotype that Ivy League ballplayers fall more on the gentlemanly than the "grinder'' end of the scale.
Consider the obstacles Young has surmounted to last this long. He survived an Albert Pujols line drive to the face in 2008 and came back from thoracic outlet surgery to go 12-9 with a 3.65 ERA for the Seattle Mariners and win the 2014 American League Comeback Player of the Year award. Last year, Young signed with Kansas City as a relative afterthought in March and wound up playing a pivotal role in the Royals' World Series run.
Young was downright inspirational in October, pitching with poise and resolve after his father, Charles, died of cancer in late September. During the American League Division Series, he struck out seven Houston Astros in four innings with a fastball that topped out at 89 mph.
In hindsight, Young credits his college experience with steeling him for many of the challenges that MLB has thrown his way.
"Princeton is so ultra-competitive, you have to be that way to go to a place like that,'' Young says. "It's one of reasons I ended up there. There was an opportunity to be around some of the brightest people in the country and ask yourself, 'Can I hang with them?'
"If you're not willing to put in the work, the time and commitment to being successful, you might not make it. I saw a lot of kids with bright minds who went there and had to take a year off for academic reasons or because they couldn't handle the social aspect. In a lot of ways, it prepared me for what you go through in this lifestyle.''
Future general managers?
Young won points with statistically oriented social media followers during the 2015 American League Championship Series, when he scoffed at the notion that he might be disappointed over pitching 4 2/3 innings against Toronto and falling short of a victory. During a media interview, Young called the win a "somewhat ridiculous stat.''
Nevertheless, baseball number-crunchers who expect Young and Ohlendorf to champion the virtues of SIERA and xFIP are bound to be disappointed. Not long ago, Young asked Ohlendorf which statistic he considers the best measure of a pitcher's performance. He received a surprisingly old-fashioned response.
"I feel like ERA is the most important,'' Ohlendorf says. "You want to be able to measure quality and quantity, so innings and ERA are two ways to do that. Whenever you look at stats, there's a question of whether you're trying to measure how well someone did or project how well they're going to do. If you're trying to project how well they're gonna do, you might want to use something else.''
While Young places stock in numbers, he uses them to complement rather than shape his baseball world view. He has monitored the trend toward academic thinkers in front offices and is intrigued by the prospect of entering that realm when his playing career is finished.
"I appreciate the analytics and use that in my preparation,'' Young says. "But I don't overanalyze analytics. For me, it's more the basic trends than huge breakdowns. If Jose Abreu hits 'X' on sliders and 'Y' on fastballs, I'm playing the statistics a little bit knowing, 'In this situation, the slider might be the better pitch.' There's a place for that, and I'd like to learn more about that potentially in a front office role.''
Ohlendorf, similarly, is intrigued by the prospect of working for a team, but he has some business ventures that promise to keep him busy if he chooses. He and his father, Curtis, run a company called Rocking O Longhorns out of Lockhart, Texas, that calls itself "the home of pretty and productive cattle.'' He indulges his entrepreneurial bent by raising and selling bulls, steers and heifers when he's not throwing fastballs.
"Ross is an anomaly in a lot of ways,'' Young says. "He's one of the brightest people I know, and one of the simplest. Sometimes, the smarter and more analytical a person is, the more complex things are. He has an unbelievable way of simplifying things. It's an art.''
In Ohlendorf's estimation, Young's most admirable quality is his ability to relate to people and stay grounded no matter how much success he enjoys.
"Chris says hi to everybody who works for the team and calls them by name,'' Ohlendorf says. "He's very friendly and engaging and wants to include everybody. And he has very strong morals. He quickly earns everyone's respect.''
In their corner of the Kansas City clubhouse, the two Princeton buddies have shown that intelligence needn't be daunting, and it's possible for big brains and big hearts to co-exist. That's a nice recipe for survival in the major-league shark tank.