Students, alumni and faculty joined renowned Tufts professor Sol Gittleman, the Alice and Nathan Gantcher University Professor emeritus, on Saturday to break ground on the school’s new baseball park named after him.
Among those present were Nathan Gantcher himself, University President Anthony Monaco, Medford Mayor Breanna Lungo-Koehn and dozens of former and current Tufts baseball players.
Gittleman was provost of Tufts from 1981 to 2002, but has been a member of the faculty since 1964, only retiring from teaching in 2016. He conducted lectures in courses on American history, Yiddish literature and the nation’s favorite pastime, baseball.
Theodore “Ted” Tye (A’79), chair of the athletics board of advisors and member of the Tufts board of trustees, praised Gittleman as a professor.
“Sol never had a problem filling the seats, whether it’s his Yiddish literature class … German or Judaic studies, biblical literature or baseball,” Tye said. “Many, many alums consider him their best Tufts professor.”
Despite trying out for minor league baseball, Gittleman was never able to go further than playing for Drew University as an undergraduate. He went on to obtain a Ph.D. in comparative literature from the University of Michigan.
“Though he turned his attention to a career in academia, he never let go of his love of the sport,” Tye said. “When it came to naming a new field, Sol was the obvious choice. I can’t think of a name more closely associated with Tufts University or more closely associated with a real passion for baseball. It’s a great way to honor Sol’s legacy, as each new generation of Jumbo ballplayers will walk under an arch bearing Sol’s name.”
Sol Gittleman Park will bring a number of benefits to the university’s baseball team, including enabling Tufts to host NESCAC league conference championships. It will also feature turf fielding, which will make it possible to practice under more severe weather conditions.
At the groundbreaking ceremony, Tufts head baseball coach Paul Svagdis commented on the implementation of lights to illuminate the new field. Svagdis noted that modern facilities will allow students to focus on their academics without having to worry about missing daylight playing hours.
“I’m so excited to have a facility where we can practice around their academic schedule,” Svagdis said. “We don’t have to ask them to … rework their schedule to try to fit in something they love. I will rework my schedule so that they can fit in what they’re doing in both settings. So I think that’s an incredible element to the facility.”
Svagdis, a former student of Gittleman’s, graduated from Tufts in 1993 after playing for the baseball team himself.
“I so much appreciated his ability to tell a story and be relational,” Svagdis said. “We, as students at Tufts that had Sol, knew how much he and his wife loved the students and put the students first. And I will say this, as a coach over the last 30 years, I’ve tried to infuse that into my coaching. So I’m very honored today to be able to walk into that stadium every day and teach these [baseball players] the values that Professor Gittleman [stands] for.”
Boston University senior lecturer Andy Andres (N’99) first met Sol Gittleman in 2003, just one year before Andres began teaching a class on sabermetrics, the statistical analysis of baseball data, at the Experimental College at Tufts.
“It was a great collegial relationship between Sol and I,” Andres said. “He is a wonderful, wonderful, mentor for me; he really was. In every stage, he really helped me understand better what it meant to have a career in academia. I mean, he was such an important part of Tufts for so many decades.”
While Andres is not currently teaching sabermetrics at Tufts, he shared many students with Gittleman.
“His leadership as the provost here has impacted so many people in very small ways, but very positive ways, all the way up to huge impacts on so many people,” Andres said. “Students … that we shared were greatly impacted by the chance to talk about baseball and consider this other angle of having a career in baseball — not just as a player.”
Andres noted the significance of Gittleman’s impact on students pursuing careers in baseball analytics.
“We’ve had a lot of success getting Tufts undergraduates into analytics departments in Major League Baseball,” Andres said. “The impact of someone like Sol Gittleman is almost immeasurable.”