Mets fan, yes, but civilized

Baseball: Budding mathematician Stephen Devlin enjoys a visit to mellow Camden Yards

July 22, 1999|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,SUN STAFF

The royal blue cap gives him away, little else. All right, once in the early innings, Stephen Devlin shouts "LET'S GO METS!" but otherwise he's not fulfilling a Baltimorean's foul stereotype of the New York baseball fan.

Granted, there isn't much for Mets fans in the Camden Yards crowd on Tuesday night to yell about, what with Orioles' right-hander Sidney Ponson neutralizing New York bats with a complete-game, 4-1 victory. Besides, Devlin is a guest in a rival ballpark, seated in Section 96, Seat 14N, the bleachers seat The Sun has been checking in on this season.

"I'm trying to be civilized," says Devlin, 26, who grew up on Long Island.

To a Baltimore ear, perhaps the statement seems ironic.

In the course of a game, however, Devlin earns credibility on this point. A doctoral student in mathematics at the University of Maryland, College Park, Devlin seems soft-spoken and thoughtful.

With about a year's work to go before completing his Ph.D., Devlin is grappling with doubts about how he'll be able to make a living engaging his passion for pure -- as opposed to applied -- mathematics. His dissertation focuses on something called "representation theory," specifically something called "P-adic groups."

Well, uh, Stephen, is there any way to explain this concept to a liberal arts, language kind of person?

"It's really pure math," he says. "It's really ... no."

When pressed on the point, Devlin makes a valiant effort to describe his work in numerical systems. The fact is that he was right the first time. The concepts go far beyond the calculation of, say, earned-run average.

But it's not the abundance of statistical possibility that attracts Devlin to baseball. It's just the game, which he grew up with in Hauppauge, Long Island. The 1969 Mets preceded his birth by four years, but he does have good memories of the 1986 post-season vs. the Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox.

On this, his second trip to Camden Yards, Devlin notes that he has suffered little abuse at the hands of Orioles fans.

"They're actually very, very mellow," he says, noting the frequently noted contrast between Camden Yards and Yankee Stadium, a place which can be unsafe for Orioles fans and other living things.

"I wouldn't even wear a Mets hat there," he says.

It's a risk calculation worthy of a mathematician.

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