Francis Larson: Big League Brains
Baseball: to play or not to play? After June’s Major League Baseball draft, this could very well be the question for senior catcher Francis Larson.
For some, the image of stepping up to the plate at Yankee Stadium in front a sold-out crowd of over 40,000 intense fanatics is an image that comes to life while they rest their heads on a pillow at night. Eventually they wake up, realizing that it was all a dream and that playing professional baseball was simply a childhood fantasy. Many part ways with the game after little league. Others stopped after high school or college. And some are still making futile attempts, holding out hope that they’re the next Jim Morris (also known as, “The Rookie”). But for Larson, it is not an alarm clock that could stop his potential Major League career; it is his intellect.
Despite being considered an upper echelon college catcher, the philosophy major has put baseball into perspective, seeing it merely as a source of enjoyment, a game. Although Head Coach Mike Gillespie has seen his catcher evolve from a struggling freshman to a semifinalist for the Johnny Bench award in 2009 (presented to the top collegiate catcher), Gillespie emphasizes that the senior’s mind and his occupational future contain just as much potential as his stellar baseball potential.
A pedigree for success, the Larson family consists of a lawyer father and a mother with a degree in psychology, as well as a Ph.D. in nutrition. Imagine trying to win an argument in that household. Larson maintains that his parents were instrumental to his intellectual development, crediting them for teaching him “how to think creatively and to talk about issues.” As a freshman, Larson entered college as a philosophy major in hopes of ultimately following in his father’s footsteps and becoming a lawyer.
Philosophy is not always the prototypical major decision for aspiring lawyers, many of whom choose criminology or political science. However, Larson felt that it would be more beneficial “to learn to think logically and learn reason with philosophy, rather than just accumulate knowledge” in another field. This past summer, Larson took the Law School Admissions Test, scoring in the 90th percentile. “I did okay,” the catcher said modestly.
Larson’s academic explorations have gradually gravitated away from law, towards a potential career that he refers to as “an academic-professional hybrid. I want to do meta-consulting, write books about human behavior, give speeches, teach and be involved with shaping how the world works,” Larson said.
The term meta-consulting might sound confusing. That’s because it is a technical term Larson uses “to describe a job that may not exist yet. Regular consultants often tell businesses how to make their supply chains more efficient,” Larson said. “I want to shape the direction of certain businesses, institutions, or people in power. In a world of specialists, I want to be a generalist.”
In preparation for his future aspirations, Larson has balanced his scholarly schedule with the baseball team’s arduous season, a task that he considers “a grind.” However, he acknowledged that his hectic agenda makes him feel productive.
“After practice, I always get dinner and then head to the library,” Larson said.
Along with studying for finals, Larson has studied to improve his game as well. Following a freshman campaign in which he batted just .233, the catcher changed two aspects of his hitting approach. Larson first came to terms with the fact that he had been putting too much pressure on himself to succeed. He articulated that his former coach, Mike Madigan, once told him that “success will come and to not worry about results.” As a sophomore, Larson began to put Madigan’s advice to use, playing the game to simply have fun.
The second adjustment that Larson made he described as “a massive swing change.” He led the team with a combined 16 HR and 83 RBI in his subsequent sophomore and junior seasons, after making alterations to his approach.
“My swing is outrageously goofy now,” Larson said. “But I’ve played well and laughed all the way to the bank.” Regardless of his progress, Larson maintains that there is always room for improvement. “This season I want to strike out less and draw more walks … [behind the plate] I’d like to work on blocking pitches in the dirt,” Larson said.
In his first ten games of the 2010 season Larson has totaled 9 RBI, along with one round-tripper. However, Larson acknowledges that he has yet to reach midseason form.
Throughout the years, Larson has developed camaraderie with his teammates. One of whom, sophomore Ronnie Schaeffer, has benefited from his time with the starting catcher. Upon Larson’s graduation, Schaeffer is expected to take over behind the dish next season. In a selfless fashion, Larson has helped prepare Schaeffer to be his eventual successor.
“We take a collaborative approach to catching,” Larson said. “He’s learned a lot and taught me some things too.”
Last year, after dominating college baseball’s regular season, the Anteaters bitterly watched the College World Series at home. With a talented group alongside, Larson hopes to finish his college career off in Omaha.
“Our team has almost too many good players,” Larson said. “It’s time to win. We are ripe for success and I see this team winning it all.”
Whether the team can bring home a national championship or not remains to be seen. But for Larson, his dream of advancing himself intellectually may take priority over his baseball career. When the season is over, Larson will likely go abroad to attend the London School of Economics. Larson hasn’t ruled out making a run at the Major Leagues, but he explains that it would take a lucrative offer to keep him from continuing his post-graduate education.
“I [could] be abroad in London next year,” Larson said. However, when presented with the event that a team drafted him and presented a hefty contract, Larson reconsidered.
“I couldn’t pass that up,” Larson said. “I could put off getting my Masters a while if I was offered a lot of money. I’ll gravitate towards whatever I feel is the best opportunity for me.”