A's showcase science of baseball at STEM clinic

A's showcase science of baseball at STEM clinic

OAKLAND -- A's pitcher Kendall Graveman knew he needed to select a major by the end of his sophomore year at Mississippi State, and leaned toward pursuing business until his father, Gary, suggested something else.

"He said 'Hey, try engineering and give it a shot, we can always change directions,'" Graveman said.

Graveman, 25, was a strong math student. His mother, Sharon, worked alongside civil engineers at her job with the Alabama Highway Department. The father of his childhood best friend also worked in civil engineering, and it was even prevalent among his friends at Mississippi State, which feeds employees to the oil industry. It all made sense, and he picked mechanical engineering.

Of course, Graveman also had a baseball career to focus on, eventually being drafted by Toronto in 2013 before his trade to Oakland. His interest in engineering never dissipated, however, and finally collided head-on with his baseball career at last year's A's FanFest, when he met representatives from Chevron.

"It all fell into place," said Graveman, standing steps beyond Oakland's dugout at the Coliseum Thursday during an on-field clinic for more than 100 youth athletes from the Richmond Little League -- the outcome of a joint partnership between Chevron and the A's.

Graveman also knew Rhonda Morris, vice president of human resources downstream & chemicals at Chevron, and plans to utilize his degree once his playing career ends. He jumped at the chance to work with kids.

"It's something I didn't have a chance to do growing up," Graveman said. "I think these kids may not realize at the time how special this is."

The clinic aimed to educate youth athletes in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) by blending it with sports. Guided by instructors such as A's assistant Ron Washington and former players Shooty Babbitt, John "Blue Moon" Odom and Bip Roberts, youth athletes ages ages 8-to-14 participated in drills on the field.

Morris said they try to show the connection between baseball and math by showcasing topics such as pitching velocity and speed on base paths. Chevron, which has a refinery in Richmond, recently created a $35 million scholarship called "The Richmond Promise" for high school students pursuing higher education.

The company's goal is to invest in STEM subjects, beginning with youth students, with the hope they pursue a college degree in STEM careers and return to work for Chevron.

"STEM careers are really vital to the viability of our company long-term, especially in the Bay Area," Morris said.

It resonated with Graveman, who said he's always been interested "in the way things work." At Mississippi State, he worked on a group project that designed a prototype wheelchair equipped with a machine that answered an essential question.

"It was 'Hey, what if a guy is going to class in a wheelchair that moves for himself, but he can't reach around and get his backpack?" Graveman said.

He and four others presented a mechanism that reached around a wheelchair to both retrieve and put away a classmates' belongings, adding "it was little things like that which made me interested."

Those same things could spur a career after baseball, too. Graveman, who has a deal with Adidas, hopes to sustain a lengthy baseball career, but is also intrigued with the idea of one day working with Adidas engineers on designing sports equipment, such as redesigning baseball gloves and aluminum bats.

"Baseball lasts a short period of your life," Graveman said. "If you're blessed to play 10 years in the big leagues, but you live 80 years, that's an eighth of your life … That's why I went and got a degree. Not just to have it, but I would like to use it one day in whatever aspect that may be."

Mark Chiarelli is a reporter for MLB.com based in the Bay Area. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.