Kevin Cepelak ’05, political science, has a job that comes with a pass that gets him into any Major League Baseball (MLB) park. And when he gets to his office near New York City’s Grand Central Station each day, he rubs elbows with former greats of the game and a chance to work with former Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents and former New York City Police Department investigators. And he spends his days compiling reports that help MLB officials tackle problem issues in professional sports ranging from steroids to gambling.
Cepelak’s work as an analyst for MLB’s Department of Investigations – professional baseball’s internal watchdog on a variety of issues involving the sport’s integrity – is heady and somewhat surprising stuff for a recent UMBC graduate. After all, the sport that Cepelak played as a Retriever from 2002 through 2005 involved sticks, not bats.
“I never thought in a million years that I’d go from lacrosse to working in baseball,” says Cepelak over lunch at an Italian restaurant near MLB’s Park Avenue headquarters.
The MLB department where Cepelak works as an analyst is a key element in professional baseball’s strong renaissance in recent years. Starting with a 232-day player strike that shut down the 1994 playoffs and World Series, and continuing with a string of scandals involving performance-enhancing drugs that tarnished historic achievements (including wildly-popular pursuits of home run records by athletes including sluggers Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds), pro baseball suffered a number of self-inflicted wounds over more than a decade.
The biggest step in the turnaround was a 2007 report on performance-enhancing drugs initiated by MLB commissioner Bud Selig and authored by diplomat and former U.S. Senator George Mitchell. Not only did the “Mitchell Report” help clear the air, but in 2008, Selig acted on the report’s recommendation that baseball create an independent investigations unit to help police the game.
“The main objective of our department is to protect the integrity of the game,” says Cepelak, whose portfolio ranges from diving into MLB’s database to compile research for probes into performance-enhancing drugs and gambling to helping players navigate the increasingly complex and sticky issues of social media such as Facebook and Twitter. He also creates regular reports for the department on broader trends in drug use and gambling across professional sports.
“I enjoy it a lot,” says Cepelak. “The job changes every day. No one case is like another case.”
After graduation from UMBC, Cepelak worked in local government on Long Island for county legislator Jon Cooper as he worked on a master’s degree in criminal justice from Boston University. When the job posting for his current position came onto his radar, Cepelak leapt at the opportunity to work for Major League Baseball.
“I always wanted to work on the investigative side of things,” he says, “whether it be in law enforcement or compliance.” Cepelak also relishes the opportunity to be mentored by a team of seasoned professionals put together by the league to police the game that includes former FBI and New York City Police Department investigators.
“These guys were all-stars at their jobs,” observes Cepelak. “They are the best of the best.”
Sports have always been a big part of Cepelak’s life, and his memories of UMBC center largely on the fellowship that he felt with his fellow athletes – in lacrosse and in other sports – at the university.
“Lacrosse was my big thing,” recalls Cepelak. “UMBC athletics was like one big family. You get to know the people not just in your sport but in other sports. You party together. You see each other on campus. There’s a camaraderie and great friendship that lasts over four years.”
Cepelak cites UMBC’s men’s lacrosse coach Don Zimmerman as a mentor during his UMBC years, and adds that the university’s focus on the “student” part of the student-athlete was a foundation for his success.
“Being a Division I athlete, you have to be focused and prepared to handle the academics and also playing your sport all year round,” he says. “And usually how well you did in academics reflected how well you did on the field.”
While Cepelak is understandably tight-lipped about professional baseball’s sensitive internal investigations, he does mention that the Dominican Republic’s baseball industry is much of his work and that of the department. Steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs are largely unregulated in that country, he observes, and young players are often exploited by unscrupulous trainers and other professional scouts.
“You can get steroids over the counter,” Cepelak notes. “And you have trainers down there who are injecting players [with them], and the players don’t know what they’re being injected with.”
— Richard Byrne ’86