One Sweet Summer

Thanks to donors, Whitman is funding 125 summer internships in professions ranging from business development to baseball. Wait a minute. Baseball?

Zane McPhee
Zane MacPhee ’15 poses for a photo at Borleske Stadium on June 18, 2013, during the game between the Walla Walla Sweets and the Wenatchee AppleSox. MacPhee’s team defeated the AppleSox, the first-place team in the division, 2-0.

By Edward Weinman

Zane MacPhee ’15 has taken numerous statistics classes at Whitman. After all, he’s an economics major and a math minor. But after hours spent in the library studying multiple linear regression and model selection, MacPhee sometimes hums the lyrics:

Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack.

I don’t care if I never get back.

MacPhee is a baseball junkie. And this summer he’s working for the Walla Walla Sweets, an amateur baseball team in the West Coast League, using his statistical skills to help the ball club win games by scouting the tendencies of opposition clubs.

MacPhee also evaluates Sweets players by eschewing traditional statistical indicators, such as batting averages, RBI and slugging percentage, focusing instead on more objective indicators like weighted on-base average, which measures a player’s offensive performance by taking into account the run value of each hit.

“I’m in charge of building models that identify key factors for players in the West Coast League,” MacPhee said.

“I’m given a bunch of stats and factors on players and using model selection I can sift through all the noise and find some signals that can indicate how a player will do in the league.”

The method he uses is called sabermetrics, which involves analyzing baseball with statistics and other objective evidence. The “saber” in the term “sabermetrics” comes from SABR, short for the Society for American Baseball Research. Sabermetrics came to prominence thanks to Billy Beane, a Major League Baseball executive with the Oakland Athletics, who used these principles to evaluate and pick players for his team. The term was popularized in the 2011 film “Moneyball,” starring Brad Pitt.

“The key indicator I’m looking at is runs created per plate appearance,” said MacPhee, who played left field in high school. “It’s like the film ‘Moneyball,’ but definitely not as intense with the Sweets.”

MacPhee is one of 125 Whitman students who apply the skills they’ve learned in their classes to create pragmatic solutions for companies and non-profits all across the country. Eighteen Whitman students are interning in Walla Walla, in a variety of fields and organizations.

Money raised during the Now Is the Time Campaign supports the Whitman Internship Program. A targeted funding effort by the Parents Leadership Committee, support for the David Stevens Internship Endowment and gifts from individual donors have transformed the internship program and increased the opportunities for Whitman students. In addition, Trustee Andy Ferrari ’68 and his wife, Barbara Quagliata Ferrari, provided funding for summer environmental studies internships. In 2012-13, the newly established Don and Virginia Sherwood Trust Internship Endowment provided students with additional opportunities with local nonprofits.

“We’ve always had success working with Whitman students, and Zane [MacPhee] is no exception,” said Zachary Fraser, vice president and general manager of the Walla Walla Sweets.

“I typically feel that we can trust a Whitman student to take instruction once and run with it. That critical thought capability is an important tool in problem solving, especially when the problems change from game to game,” Fraser said.

When MacPhee’s not working as a scout, analyzing the tendencies of the opposition or evaluating the performance of the Sweets players, he helps with on-field promotions, works in the ticket booth and makes sure everything off the field runs smoothly.

The job skills he has accumulated while interning with the Sweets are invaluable. However, he’s not only gaining the practical experience associated with building a winning baseball team – he’s also living a dream.

“I love baseball. I want to pursue baseball as a career. Now I have the opportunity to interact with the game I love and hopefully help a team win.”

Summer interns at a glance

Katie Myers '15
Katie Myers ’15 poses in front of her workplace. The politics major said her internship has helped her develop invaluable networking skills.

Politics major Katie Myers ’15 is an intern for Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho. Myers does everything from acting as the first point of contact on the phones to helping the legislative staff with special projects.

“I was able to help the legislative director write a statement for the Congressional record about health care,” she said. “And to be able to say ‘I wrote that’ about something that’s in the permanent record of the 113th Congress is an incredible feeling.”

Myers said she’s learned valuable skills in her time on Capitol Hill, including how to multi-task and prioritize duties.

“I’ve also been able to develop my networking skills, which were severely lacking before coming to Capitol Hill,” she said. “It’s crucial to put your name and face out there and solidify as many connections as you can. I’m still working on this, but the practice has been invaluable.”

Vorona is one of 125 Whitman students pursuing internships around the country thanks to the philanthropic support of alumni, parents and friends of the college. Whitman is committed to helping students obtain internships that will help them bring their liberal arts educations into real-world settings and gain valuable job skills through experiential learning.

Here’s where a few Whittie interns are spending their summers:

  • Collin Smith ’15 and Faith Bernstein ’14 – Grand Canyon Trust, Castle Valley, Utah 
  • Nelson Falkenburg ’14 – Prosecuting Attorney’s Office - Civil Division, Olympia, Wash.
  • Zach Calo ’16 – Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization, Portland, Ore.
  • Madeline Levy ’15 – Seattle Opera
  • Jenny Gonyer ’14 – Salmon Valley Stewardship/Lemhi Valley Land Trust, Salmon, Idaho 
  • Marie O’Grady ’14 – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Pacific Reefs National Wildlife Refuge Complex, Honolulu, Hawaii
  • Zoe Randol ’14 – Coast to Coast Talent Group, Los Angeles
  • Sophie Schouboe ’15 – Life-Span Development Lab, Stanford University