Sunday, May 27, 2012

For Baxter, College Is Just As Important As Baseball

A little over a week ago, Jon Morosi of Fox Sports, wrote an article about the rarity of college graduates playing Major League Baseball.

Through a survey conducted by Fox Sports, of the 917 players who have appeared in a game in the 2012 season, only 39 of them had a four-year degree.

That number is up from back in 2009 when the Wall Street Journal reported that only 26 players and managers had obtained their four-year degree.

This got me thinking. How many Mets players would be included on this list of college graduates.

The answer. Not many.

When I asked the Mets media relations staff, I was given one name. Mike Baxter.

During my recent trip to Pittsburgh, I had the chance to talk with Baxter about his decision to complete his degree.

You started at Columbia and then transferred to Vanderbilt. Was that for baseball reasons or academic reasons?

It was just baseball. When I was at Columbia I loved it there. I thought it was a really great school, but an opportunity kind of presented itself where Vanderbilt was transitioning and I decided it would probably be a better fit for me, both academically and athletically.

If you had to choose, because a lot of kids get drafted right out of high school, and they decide I'm going to skip college, I'm going to go play baseball because I think I'll make it. If you had that option would you have done the same?

I'm glad I didn't have to make that decision. That's a lot of times what I tell the kids. In hindsight, looking back, it would have to be a really special situation for me to kind of suggest that somebody go right from high school. It's just such a tough road. I think you mature physically and mentally in college, and it kind of helps you grow up. It helps you learn how to deal with the ins and outs of professional baseball better.

Would you suggest that minor leaguers complete it (their degree) later on? Do you have time to do it in the minor leagues? I know you're on the road a lot. They offer online degrees. 

Yeah, I had to go back and do it. You have to try and mix it in when you can. After my short season, I went to the fall instructional league and then the following year I went back to school. I told the team I wanted to go back to school, so I did that. The next two years I played in the winters and then in the fall of 2009 I went back and finished. It took eight years altogether to get the degree, but the day that it was over, it was a great day and I'm very glad that it's done.

Did you walk at graduation?

I didn't walk. We had a game. We were in Memphis that night. Graduation was Friday in Nashville and we were playing Friday in Memphis, so I couldn't make it.

How is the team, whether it's through the minors or up here, do they encourage you to go back and finish at any point, or is it more just you have time down the road when your career is over, do it then?

They encourage you right away by giving you, most of the time, scholarship money to go back. I think that's the first step. A lot of time that's in the deals for, especially high school kids. They give a little stipend to go back to school. That's the first way they make that available to you. I think a lot of it falls on the player to kind of explain to the team what he wants to do and how it's important to him, and then just come to an agreement at some point when the time is right. It's a balance of your career and school. You don't want to put your career second, but you might want to make sure if you have the time, to get it done.

Not everybody is going to make it in baseball. Do you think it's a good idea for players to have that back up plan? 

Yeah. Even if you make it, we're going to spend so many more years not playing as opposed to playing, and with the exception of the top five percent of the league, we're probably going to have to work when we're done. I would highly encourage anybody to go back to school and finish if it's possible, but obviously everybody's in different positions. I was single and I didn't have any kids and obviously that goes a long way in giving you the opportunity to do it. Some times you have family demands and it's a little bit different. Depending on your situation, if possible, I think it should be encouraged, but ultimately that's up to the situation to dictate.

What did you major in?

Human and organizational development.

What would you do with that?

A lot of people go into consulting. A lot of people go into human resources. I wouldn't go either way with that. So, I'm not sure where I would go. It was a good major. It talks about leadership and strategies to manage people without a focus on numbers. It was just more strategies and ways to motivate and keep people together as a group. It's actually a pretty useful major. For me, it might lead to coaching, or something on that side of the game, but I'm not sure.              

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