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CEE grad pursues field of engineering, field of dreams

With a 91-mile-per-hour fastball and a nasty slider, Jason Schlutt could stifle hitters as a journeyman relief pitcher for four minor-league ball clubs.

But after hanging up the cleats every fall since 1993, Schlutt traded big-league aspirations for a practical goal: a civil engineering degree from UW-Madison, with a specialty in engineering construction management. This past weekend he achieved that goal when he joined 2,500 classmates at the UW Field House to pick up his diploma.

Schlutt could have thrown his last slider in 1990. A scholarship freshman on the UW baseball team, he played one year before the university terminated its baseball program.

Schlutt transferred the next year to Central Florida University, where baseball is a year-round sport and the bleachers are crawling with pro scouts. He was spotted in 1993 by a San Diego Padres scout, who signed him to play with the Padres' rookie farm club in Spokane, Wash.

Recent civil engineering graduate Jason Schlutt, as he appeared on his 1997 Saint Paul Saints baseball card.

Recent civil engineering graduate Jason Schlutt, as he appeared on his 1997 Saint Paul Saints baseball card. (large image)

"I fell in love with this place when I came here in 1990," Schlutt says of Madison. "I came back because of the prestige of the engineering school. A degree here holds a lot of bargaining power when you get out in the field."

Although minor-league players work for peanuts (about $1,000 a month), Schlutt's contract came with a nice perk: guaranteed tuition payment toward his undergraduate degree. He used it to return to UW-Madison each fall semester, squeezing his education between seasons.

Schlutt played with Double-A clubs in Springfield, Ill., in 1994 and East Los Angeles in 1995, before injuring his pitching elbow. After surgery, he made a comeback in 1997 with the St. Paul Saints, finishing second in the Midwest League in total saves.

"I've pretty much seen the entire country and haven't graduated yet," he says wistfully. His career included getting power-hitter Barry Bonds to dribble a ground-out to first base. But it also included hellish 15-hour bus trips on anonymous highways.

With a degree in the bag, Schlutt acknowledges he's at a crossroads. At age 25, the Benton Harbor, Mich., native may not play professionally again. "I can go back on the road with baseball, or sink roots somewhere, get a normal paycheck and not worry about whether I'll have a job next year.

"If the right opportunity presents itself (to play ball), I'll still go for it."