Wharton junior Bradley Wilpon experienced the dream of every young baseball player when he heard his name called in the Major League Baseball draft as rising freshman.
Yet, two and a half years after being selected by the Boston Red Sox in the 36th round of the 2014 first-year player draft before committing to pitch for the Quakers, Wilpon found himself walking away from the game for good.
Wilpon’s decision to leave baseball behind was not an easy one, especially given the passion for the game that he holds that runs in his family. Wilpon’s grandfather, Fred, is the principal owner of the New York Mets, and his father, Jeff, is the team’s chief operating officer. Just as Bradley did, both men played collegiate baseball at Division I schools.
“Baseball runs in my family,” Wilpon said. “We all have that special bond. We all understand the game, and we’ve all played the game at a pretty high level. It’s just part of the family culture.”
Bradley first began to show his own baseball talent while pitching for Brunswick School in Greenwich, Conn., where he tossed a no-hitter in his first start as a high school freshman. By the summer between his junior and senior years, he had committed to play for Penn. Wilpon capped off his prep career by pitching to a 5-1 record with a 1.50 ERA in his senior season.
These gaudy stats, in addition to his upper-80s fastball, began to draw the attention of professional scouts.
“There were definitely some scouts at some of my [high school] games,” Wilpon said. “But I wasn’t expecting anything at all, and it came as a humbling surprise. But I never considered signing.
“It was an honor to be drafted, and something I’ll remember for the rest of my life, but I always wanted to come to school at Penn.”
However, trouble beset Wilpon’s pitching career even before he ever donned the Red and Blue.
In the summer of 2014, just after he had graduated high school and just before he would matriculate to Penn, Wilpon sustained a concussion while playing in a collegiate summer league game, and consequently lost a few miles per hour off his fastball. Simultaneously, the right-hander’s hip, which had always troubled him, began to hurt even more, necessitating some time off from the mound.
“I got to Penn, and I was sort of behind the eight ball, because I hadn’t thrown in a while,” Wilpon said.
Wilpon battled his hip injury through his freshman and sophomore years, pitching a combined six innings of relief during those two seasons. Despite the limited action, Wilpon saw his experience on the team as invaluable.
“I loved the team. I really enjoyed being a part of the Penn baseball program,” Wilpon said, delivering praise for everyone from his coaches to his teammates to the strength and conditioning staff.
After his sophomore season, Wilpon underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum and bad impingement in his right hip. He worked to regain his strength this past fall, and returned from winter break believing that he would be ready to go for the season. Two strong tune-up sessions at the beginning of the semester confirmed this belief.
Yet, the next time he threw would prove to be his last as a member of the Red and Blue. After his third tune-up session, Wilpon came off the mound unable to feel his right leg.
“It was sort of a point of reflection, because I grew up loving playing the game, but once your body starts failing you and you’re not able to perform at the level that you used to be able to perform at, it’s tough to continue playing,” Wilpon said.
The pitcher made the decision to leave the team this past February.
“If I felt like I couldn’t be at the level I wanted to perform at, I didn’t want to be a hindrance to anyone else on the team by coming to practice with any sort of negative attitude,” Wilpon said.
Now that Wilpon is no longer a student-athlete, he has found that he’s been able to use his newfound free time to explore elements of Penn that he previously could not.
“As an athlete, sometimes you miss out on other aspects of school life, whether it be meeting with a professor, or joining a club,” Wilpon said. “You can do it, but you can’t really get fully involved in the other extracurriculars that the school really has to offer.”
Wilpon, a finance and real estate concentrator in Wharton, was able to secure an internship at Allen & Co., an investment bank specializing in technology and media mergers and acquisitions. The bank sometimes advises regional sports television networks on the multimillion dollar deals they conduct for the right to televise professional teams’ games, which Wilpon sees as a segue between his interests in sports and finance.
Beyond that, though, Wilpon is not sure what the future holds, and doesn’t know whether he will follow his father and grandfather into the front office of an MLB team. However, he does know his attitude towards the game hasn’t changed.
“Just because I stopped playing the game doesn’t mean I’m going to be any less involved or follow the game any less,” Wilpon said.
“I have a great passion for baseball, and I think that will always be there.”