Spring 2014

Sox and Stats

An academic partnership is launched in the stands of Fenway Park

By Jacqueline Mitchell

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Biostatistician Matthew Finkelman at Fenway Park. Photo: Alonso Nichols

Even if it’s sometimes uttered with sarcasm, they don’t call it “Friendly Fenway” for nothing. Tufts’ own Matthew Finkelman helped the ballpark live up to its nickname.

Finkelman, who teaches biostatistics at the School of Dental Medicine, went to see the Red Sox play the Tampa Bay Rays in the first game of the American League Division Series last fall. Sitting in the grandstands on the third-base side, Finkelman and his girlfriend, Amy Krasner, found themselves next to five women from the Tampa area. One of them was Marcia Long.

“I was just going along to be a good friend. Baseball totally bores me,” Long admits. With her more die-hard friends absorbed in the game, it wasn’t long before she was deep in conversation with Finkelman and Krasner. When Krasner said she is a social worker, Long replied that her daughter Emily studies psychology—and mentioned that Emily was worried about failing statistics, one of the required courses for her major.

“I can still see it in my mind, but there are no words to describe the way his face looked,” Marcia says of Finkelman, who teaches postgraduate dental students. “He was glowing. He said, ‘I can help her.’ ”

Emily Long, a senior at the University of Central Florida, emailed Finkelman. Over the next six weeks, the pair set aside time to talk on the phone. Each in front of a computer, they watched the YouTube videos her professor had assigned, or they’d work through problem sets together. The calls each lasted an hour or two—Finkelman thinks they logged close to 15 hours of phone tutoring time in all.

The long-distance sessions worked. Emily brought her grade up to a B. “He was so patient,” Emily says. “He would explain things to me 10 times.”

“I get emotional when I talk about it. It proves there are great people in this world,” Marcia Long says. That’s why she couldn’t let the good deed go unnoticed. First, she emailed Tufts President Anthony P. Monaco. Then she tipped off the Boston Globe. That’s how Larry Lucchino, president and CEO of the Boston Red Sox, learned about it.

“Your act speaks volumes about the generosity of Red Sox Nation,” Lucchino wrote to Finkelman, inviting him to see a game this year. He might even get to catch a game with the team’s own statistician, director of baseball information services Tom Tippett.

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