Baseball and Education: Our Future

“She was the only girl on her Canyon del Oro Little League baseball team and played second base. John Green said his daughter wanted to be the first woman to play major league baseball.”
- Christina-Taylor Green’s Obituary. Age 9, Victim in the Tucson Shootings.

I took off my Christina-Taylor Green “Hope” bracelet and placed it on my closet shelf. I was officially done with my three and half week trip through Spring Training. It was a long haul but I loved it. I am truly thankful for the opportunity to combine my three loves: education, baseball, and helping people.

Joe Neikro pulled me aside from the other women who were trying out for the Colorado Silver Bullets and told me he had seen enough and to expect a phone call in a few months. I can’t find the words to describe the euphoria that I felt the night I received that phone call or the thrill of signing my first pro contract.

Before I got to the Bullets’ camp, I was having some arm troubles, but I figured I could just work through it. It was a spring training game under the lights and I was called in to get us out of a jam. Men on 1st and 2nd, with no outs. On my first pitch the runner got caught stealing third; I then struck out the batter; And the next guy grounded out. No one scored. Inning over.

After the game, I was summoned by coaches Joe and Phil Neikro. Later, when I left the lockerroom, I saw my grandfather beaming at me. He said I was the best that pitched that night and that I was sure to make the team. I gave him a hug. But I had just been cut. And just like that – my pro baseball dream was over. And I didn’t sleep for a month.

Getting “cut” can have serious ramifications. Twenty percent of elite athletes require considerable psychological adjustment upon their career termination (Lavallee, 2005). Helping athletes both prepare and cope with retirement can help lower career transition distress (Wippert & Wippert, 2010; Lavalle, 2005; Baillie & Danish, 1992).

Like many of the minor leaguers that I talked to during this spring training trip, I also left school early to pursue a professional baseball career. Then when I was released I went back to school. Through my education, I have had the amazing opportunities to chase other dreams – some I have caught – others I’m still running after – and there are ones I haven’t even dreamt yet.

Sport in Society understands that an education can help players prepare and cope with retirement. Northeastern University has made it possible for professional baseball players, coaches, and umpires to chase their dreams while also preparing for their life journey.

In a discussion on the benefits of our program, I shared that, “a degree would likely make the players better husbands and fathers.” And without hesitation, the Assistant GM replied back, “And it will also make them better players.”

Better players
Better husbands
Better fathers
This is what baseball AND an education can do.

*For more information on Northeastern University’s online degree program or Sport in Society, please send me a note and I’ll get right back to you.

Baseball and Education: The Umps!

“Getting a big-league job is like hitting the lottery, that’s how hard it is.”
-Mike Estabrook, MLB Umpire

When we customized our online degree program for minor league players, I knew we had to offer this same program to the minor league umpires. This past week, I went to both Arizona and Florida to present to the Professional Baseball Umpire Corp. From the very beginning, PBUC Executive Director Justin Klemm, wanted to help his umpires get their college degree. And I’m glad because I am a big fan of both umpires and education.

Economist, Dr. J.C. Bradbury conducted a data analysis on umpire careers. He explained the challenge. “At low levels there are umpires covering games for over 200 teams, all vying for slots in the 30-team major league. Not only must you suffer through many years of low pay, but there exists the possibility that even if you excel and do everything right, there won’t be a spot for you when you rise to the top” (sabernomics.com).

While minor league players and umpires have their similarities, there are also big differences. ESPN.com reporter, Jim Caple, compared the path of players and umpires, “A good player prospect can skip several minor league levels. Many do. But umpires cannot. They MUST ump at each minor league level, which generally means your looking at eight years to reach the majors. Caple summed up, “You can graduate from college and medical school in that time.”

I was really impressed by the umpires that I spoke to. They are a very respectful and motivated group. One umpire shared that his interest in Northeastern was because he just liked learning. Half of the umpires I spoke to wanted to finish their college degree and the other half wanted to start a Master’s. The College of Professional Studies provides both options.

Eight years in pursuit of a dream is a long time. But I believe, with all that I am, that dreams are worth pursuing. But as we follow our dreams, we can also prepare for our journey. Our customized online degree program allows umpires to pursue their baseball dreams and get their education.

And that really is the best of both worlds.

*For more information on Northeastern University’s online degree program or Sport in Society, please send me a note and I’ll get right back to you.

Baseball and Education: A’s are Home

“The pleasure of rooting for Goliath is that you can expect to win. The pleasure of rooting for David is that, while you don’t know what to expect, you stand at least a chance of being inspired.”
― Michael Lewis, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game

I always feel like I am coming home when I go to the Athletics’ Spring Training site. My second batting practice outing was with the A’s and I had a lot of fun. I was also at the A’s complex several times when I attended MLSB Scout School. So, I was happy to be back and thankful for the chance to talk to their minor leaguers about earning their college degree at Northeastern University.

A mutual friend introduced me to A’s General Manager, Billy Beane, at the 2010 Baseball Winter Meetings. Right then and there, I asked him if I could throw BP to his team. He looked at me, paused for about 5 seconds, and said yes. “Wow”, I thought. “My dream is going to actually happen. Billie Beane believes in me.”

When I present to teams, what I want the players to know most, is that I believe in them. I want them to know that I understand their baseball dreams. And that I am proof that dreams come true therefore I know their dreams can come true too.

But I also need them to know that they have more than just their baseball dream. Understanding that they are more than just baseball, is key to successful career transition and a confident and satisfying athlete identity.

I also believe in our program at Northeastern. We have really made it viable for pro athletes to compete AND get their degree. Everything is online; Including academic advising, tutoring, the library, and even the writing center. Our program is convenient, flexible, and affordable.

I think the A’s are built on a foundation of believing. I think Billy Beane understands that the intangible qualities in us is often what makes us great. Of course, you still need the physical tools to be a successful player. But the first step is always to believe.

As I looked out at the young, A’s minor leaguers, I told them I believed in them. That I believed in dreams. And that I also believed in an education. Whether they make it to the majors or are forced onto another path, they have a future. And with an education, that future provides a lot more options.

At the end of our presentation, over 40 players came up and asked for more information; It was our biggest response yet. I think it’s because the A’s believe too.

 *For more information on Northeastern University’s online degree program or Sport in Society, please send me a note and I’ll get right back to you.

Baseball and Education: Padres Lead

Fact: Between 1962 to 2000, 66 percent of players who had an education package written into their contract used at least a portion of it.

Dressed for the field, with their glove in hand, players sat outside on picnic benches waiting for us to speak. Coaches were lined up in the back. I hoped that they could hear me. Not just my voice but also my message. Padres’ Manager of Player Development and International Operations, Juan Lara, introduced us, and we began our presentation.

Before we presented to the team, we sat down with Juan, and discussed our customized online degree program. Juan had a ton of questions for us. I liked that because it meant he cared. Juan played baseball only until the 10th grade. He confessed, “I couldn’t hit.”

Sure, baseball has its well known, on-field heroes, but much of baseball is led by those who have never played professionally. These leaders love baseball, the people in it, and what the game stands for. Juan is one of these leaders. Each day, he supports the players and coaches, so they can be their best in baseball. But he also thinks of what they can be off the field too.

Major League Baseball has a scholarship program to help players pay for their education. The scholarship and its amount are negotiated at signing. Players then have 2 years after their release date to use their funds. Some players use their money and many do not. The Padres encourage players to take advantage of their scholarship and to finish their college degree.

After our presentation, about 30 players and coaches came up for more information. Juan was pleased. One player took my card and warned his friend, “I’m going to get my Master’s and then take over the world.” I smiled.

You never know what you can accomplish with an education.

*For more information on Northeastern University’s online degree program or Sport in Society, please send me a note and I’ll get right back to you.

Baseball and Education: Rays Dream

“No dreamer is ever too small. No dream is ever too big”
-Unknown Author

It was good to be back at the Rays’ facility where I had thrown batting practice at last year’s Spring Training. What a day that was! Having Johnny Damon introduce himself to me; Talking with Manny Ramirez at the water cooler; And having Don Zimmer turn into an old grandfather as he gushed over his granddaughter’s recent softball achievements. The chance for me to come back and share what I was now doing with Sport in Society was very cool for me.

This time around, there were no press cameras covering my every pitch. Nor was Joe Maddon there, who had previously cracked my daughter up, trying to bribe her into becoming a Rays’ fan with endless gifts of Rays’ merchandise. In fact, without any hoopla at all, as representatives of Northeastern University, we slipped through the door of the Ray’s minor league clubhouse and prepared to present.

Julio, a Latin American infielder, met us in the presentation room. He was happy to hear that Northeastern has many international online students, and that he could work on his degree from either his home country or the U.S. I found Julio’s smile and excitement to be contagious and unforgettable. Turns out, he still needs his high school diploma. But undeterred, Julio is now making arrangements to get his GED so he can then pursue his college goal.

Maybe by going to the Rays’ camp we helped inspire Julio to get his GED. Or maybe he would have done it anyway. Either way, Julio inspired me. He inspired me to keep pushing through and to keep sharing the gift of education.

At its root, my baseball journey has always been about helping people. I believe with all my heart that baseball can be used to help make the world better. For me, it has never been about meeting superstars, being in the news, or for a collection of free gear. For me, it has always been about the Julio’s of the world – The players who love the game – Who fight as underdogs – And always dream big.

*For more information on Northeastern University’s online degree program or Sport in Society, please send me a note and I’ll get right back to you.

Baseball and Education: Red Sox Know

“ Approximately one in 200, or .44 percent of high school seniors playing interscholastic baseball will eventually be drafted by an MLB team.”
-NCAA.org

The night before we spoke to the Red Sox minor leaguers, Nate and I went to the Red Sox/Rays game at jetBlue Park. The stadium was packed and shaped like a miniature Fenway. While I ate my first hot dog of the season, Nate was chatting to a family of Northeastern alumni who by chance were seated right next to us. I looked at the young girl in front of me, chomping on her popcorn, and remembered how much I love going to a baseball game. And how much I enjoy the Dream.

Nate Thomas is a talented enrolment coach for Northeastern’s College of Professional Studies. As we travel from team to team, he consults individually with players to show them how our program can work for them. He talks majors, classes, and transfer credit. I talk baseball and the importance of an education. We make a pretty good team.

The Red Sox made our presentation mandatory for all 2010 and 2011 draftees and optional for the rest. About 50 guys sat in the cafeteria, waiting for us to start and perhaps also waiting for us to end. After all, within the hour, they would all be on the field practicing what they do best and dreaming of what might come.

Prospective draftees are put in a precarious educational bind because of the way the MLB draft works. U.S. players are traditionally eligible to sign after they complete high school; anytime after entering junior college; or after three years (or turning 21) in a 4-year college/university. Meanwhile, international players may be signed at 16. There is much debate as to when a player should sign and these arguments are often based on the tangibles and intangibles, such as: talent, projection, education, money, and maturity.

What side of the argument one is on, is usually based on the role of the stakeholder. As I presented, I asked the Red Sox players to raise a hand if they had finished college; A small number went up. When I asked for players who had completed some college, half the room’s hands went up.

Former Major Leaguer and current sport psychology consultant for the Red Sox, Bob Tewksbury, shared his own perspective with the minor leaguers. He warned that while he had the chance to play pro ball for 18 years, he knew that in actuality he would spend most of his life not playing the game.

Baseball may be a game of dreams but it is also a game of decisions. After our presentation more than 25 players asked for more information on our degree program.

*For more information on Northeastern University’s online degree program or Sport in Society, please send me a note and I’ll get right back to you.

Baseball and Education: Mets Inspire

Fact: The federal graduation rate for baseball players in the 2004 entering class is 48%.
-NCAA Graduation Success Rate Report

As we sat outside the Mets’ minor league locker room, not a player went by with out saying hello or shaking Dr. Astro’s hand. He was obviously liked, respected, and trusted. Dr. Richard Astro is the Academic Liaison for the New York Mets and one of the founders of Sport in Society.

As a former Dean of Arts and Sciences at Northeastern University, Astro was familiar and supportive of our online degree program. But we still met so he could learn more details, such as the online tutoring, athletic mentoring, and the course transfer services we offer players. As the Academic Liaison, he will later convey our information to interested players.

After our informal presentation, we continued to sit with Astro as he spoke on the challenges of education in baseball. He was disappointed but realistic about the college graduation rates of baseball players. He longed for the answer on how to help Dominican players prepare for a future without baseball. And he shared with us the stories of heartbreak from the broken dreams of the released ball player.

The Mets have both players and coaches working on their college degrees. Astro explained that when a coach works on his degree, he is not only helping himself, but by default becomes an educational role model to his players. Role models, trust, and an environment where school is important are all key factors in guiding minor leaguers through a degree completion program.

Veteran MLB Scout, Craig Conklin, clarifies why trust is so important to players: “Too often people want something from the players and the players learn to become cautious.” Conklin continues, “But trust is everything. When working with players, the relationship is what matters.”

As the Athletic Mentor for those who enroll in our customized degree program, ensuring that the players know that I care for them, is paramount to me. Sport in Society was founded on a principal that we could help athletes finish their degrees. What an amazing moment for me, to be sitting with Astro, and be a part of fulfilling what he had envisioned 27 years ago.

As I do my best to mentor our online student-athletes, I need to look no further then Astro, for my own inspiration. He has my trust, respect, and I like him.

*For more information on Northeastern University’s online degree program or Sport in Society, please send me a note and I’ll get right back to you.

Baseball and Education: Pirates Believe

“Any time you have an opportunity to make a difference in this world and you don’t then you are wasting your time on Earth.”
- Roberto Clemente, Former Pirates Player, Current Hall of Famer

Nervous and a little lost for words, I went to my heart on what to say next. I looked out at the 160 young minor leaguers knowing they all dreamt of making it to the Show. I didn’t want to be the one to tell them they might not make it. I believe in dreams.

Larry Broadway, the Pirates’ Director of Minor League Operations, is a Duke graduate and former 3rd round draft choice. I met Larry at the Baseball Winter Meetings and was immediately struck by how much he cared for his players. He seemed to have a balanced interpretation of how players could give everything to their baseball dream and still have a connection to the realities of the outside world.

Going after one’s baseball dream is not without sacrifice. Sociologist, Dr. Sudhir Venkatesh, examined the socioeconomic background and outcome of the 2001 baseball draft class. According to Dr. Venkatesh, the average draftee is probably making $20,000-$24,000 a year. He explained, a player is, “Probably working five to seven months playing baseball and then struggling to find part-time work in the off season. Might be coaching, might be doing some training, might be working on a construction site. Might be working in fast food” (Freakonomics.com).

The decision to stick through the minors to follow a dream, when it may be economically disadvantageous for a player to do so, makes total sense to me. Because I love baseball. And these minor leaguers love baseball too. And when you love something, you will do anything to be a part of it.

So as I stood in front of those young men, I gave them my heart, and I shared that I too believed in dreams. That I had made history twice even though I was told my whole life it could never be done. But even though their dream is possible, they must still prepare for the realities of life after baseball.

When our presentation was over, 30 players came up to us and asked for more details on how to earn their college degree.

*For more information on Northeastern University’s online degree program or Sport in Society, please send me a note and I’ll get right back to you.

Baseball and Education: Spring Training

Fact: Only 1 out of 14 minor league players will make it to the major leagues; Including those that come for just a “cup of coffee”.

Earlier this year, former major leaguer, Shawn Green, tweeted, “Excited to watch the Stanford game…technically I’m still a junior there (I’m on the 30 year plan!)”.  For the former All Star, not finishing college is a bit of a joke but for the hundreds of minor leaguers who do not make it the major leagues, the absence of a college degree can severely limit their post-playing opportunities and income.

When I coached for the Brockton Rox, a minor league team in the CanAm League, players would talk to me about what they wanted to do after their playing career. I guess because I was working on my PhD in Sport Psychology, they figured I must know something about school and career transition. I tried not to disappoint.

Since coaching for the Rox and later becoming the first woman to throw batting practice to major league teams, I have been working at Sport in Society at Northeastern University. Sport in Society uses the power of sport to help create social change. Their mission and my life mission are the same – Thus I love my job! Sport in Society is making the world a better place and sometimes that starts on the baseball field.

There is an epidemic in the baseball community of players starting college but not finishing. Last year, one MLB team’s opening day roster included 18 players who had gone to college; but not one player had actually graduated. Yet the average major league career is only 4 years. When their playing career is over, we must wonder what comes next?

Sport in Society and Northeastern University’s College of Professional Studies have teamed up to offer a customized online degree program for professional baseball players. We help the players arrange their classes around the baseball season and we provide a personal support system to help them succeed.

For the next 3 weeks, I will be at Spring Training talking to different MLB clubs and letting the players know that they can play baseball AND get an education. Each day, I will blog about my experiences and explore further the question of baseball, education, and the future of our ball players. Thank you for joining me on another part of my baseball journey.

*For more information on Northeastern University’s online degree program or Sport in Society, please send me a note and I’ll get right back to you.

MLB Scout School: Graduation

“I want our democracy to be as good as Christina imagined it. I want America to be as good as she imagined it. All of us, we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children’s expectations.”
-Barack Obama, Tucson memorial Speech

Ten years of post high school education, with the late nights, tests, and papers, and I start drinking coffee at MLSB scout school…

What an amazing and challenging 2 weeks it has been. I learned how to find, evaluate, and sign ML prospects. I also made great friends (that includes you Jim Barnick!). I will never forget Mr. Walton saying…”But do you like him” over and over again, as he explained to us whether we should consider a player as a prospect. Then he would finish, “Well, if you like him, tell me why.”

Each day, I have been wearing a purple bracelet in honor of Christina-Taylor Green. And as I sat in class, I would hold that purple band in my hands, with my fingers gently going back and forth over its indented word – Hope. “Hope” – the word describing what Christina-Taylor dreamt of at just 9 years old – a better world. A world where dreams come true; where people care for one another; and a place where she could one day become the first female to play ML baseball.

Finished with my breakfast, sitting with my elbows on my knees, with my gaze to the floor, I was lost in thought. Thinking over all that I have learned and experienced in the past days, left me with one summarizing thought. Looking up at Tyler, I shared, “I feel a lot older than when I first got here.”

I am so grateful for the opportunity to go to scout school. Another dream come true for me. I was asked what do I want to do next; what am I looking for? And the truth is that I think of Christina-Taylor and the other girls who have dreams of baseball glory and I just want to do whatever I can to make the world better for them. A place where we know and see that baseball is a game for all.

Thank you to all who have read this blog – for your belief in me and your belief in us. Because we are all in a community of baseball dreamers.

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