***The following article was written by Brad Goldberg, a pitcher in the Chicago White Sox system, as a guest of Future Sox. This is part of our ongoing Prospect Perspective series: articles written by the players themselves. Brad found himself in a position where he had to balance his education with his professional work in baseball. He finished his degree recently, and writes here about how that challenging balance worked for him and other minor leaguers in the same position. We hope this gives our readers a unique view into a player’s perspective on life in the minors.***
I thought I was done writing papers for a while, but I am happy to write one more. This is my story of finishing my degree as an undergraduate at The Ohio State University while playing for the Chicago White Sox Hi-A affiliate Winton-Salem Dash.
In 2007, the NCAA ran a prominent ad that claimed “There are over 400,000 NCAA student-athletes and just about all of us will be going pro in something other than sports.”- I was not of them.
I was 17 years old when that commercial aired – one year away from graduating at Beachwood High School outside of Cleveland, Ohio. For some reason that ad always irked me and I set out to prove the commercial wrong. I was recruited to go play baseball at Coastal Carolina University – a small school in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina known for its college baseball and beautiful weather. While at Coastal, academics were a breeze. I was there to play baseball.
After spending two years there, not seeing the playing time I thought I deserved and earned, I transferred 120 miles from home to Ohio State. At Ohio State, it quickly became evident that academics were much more rigorous (the average ACT at Coastal is 22, whereas at OSU it is 28). I was at Ohio State to play baseball – but I knew I had to bust my ass just to stay eligible. Finishing college was never as important to me as getting a chance to play professionally.
I became academically ineligible in 2012 due to a credit shortage in my major classes due to the vast majority of credits from Coastal Carolina not qualifying for the rigors of Ohio State’s academic culture. Essentially those 2 years at Coastal were for naught, academically.
Athletics (mainly baseball) have always come naturally to me. Academics have not. By no means do I consider myself unintelligent – in fact, whenever I applied myself I did pretty well in school. I consistently would do just the bare minimum to get by. I just always wanted to play baseball. If there was an MLB game on TV, I watched that instead of doing homework. To me, that was my homework. I became eligible to pitch in 2013 and finished my senior season one semester and an internship away from graduating – a milestone that at some points during my time there seemed impossible. I was then drafted in the 10th round of the MLB draft that June and began my professional career.
In the offseason I live back in Columbus, Ohio with my roommate and former Ohio State teammate – now Pittsburgh Pirates right handed pitching prospect John Kuchno. John finished his degree in the 2014 offseason – and I saw how much work he put into academics, while still balancing training, lifting and side jobs for some extra cash. In that time John told me about the “degree completion program” offered by Student Athlete Support Service Offices (SASSO) at Ohio State – I became intrigued. This program, as described on the OSU website, aims to “provide academic and tuition support to former Ohio State student-athletes who left the university without completing their degrees.”
As I mulled over the decision whether to play winter ball, focus strictly on training or go back to school – I thought, what would the “Old Brad” do? He would say “the heck with school, you’ll finish eventually.. you’re a baseball player!” That version of myself is one I left with the year I was ineligible to compete for OSU. The decision was made mid-way through the near-six-month minor league season, I was going back to finish my degree and complete the challenge that many baseball players who turn pro end up do not finishing.
While I still consider myself a baseball player first and will do anything possible to contribute to the big league club (hopefully in the near future) – I knew that the longer I waited to finish my degree, the harder it would actually be to get back into the world of academia and I probably wouldn’t remember much about sociology or how to even manage going back to college. The decision wasn’t the easy way out – it was well-calculated and driven by due diligence about the degree completion program. I wanted to prove to myself that I can finish my degree and become a graduate of the University I have grown to love and take much pride in. I was thinking about the future, while still being focused on putting up zeros when my number was called late in ballgames.
Fast forward to August 25th, 2015. I’m pitching for the Winston-Salem Dash and we’re in the thick of a playoff push. I’m now 25 years old, and have done a lot of growing up since college.
In baseball season, late August is the epitome of “Dog Days of Summer.” We were playing in Myrtle Beach against the Cubs-affiliate Pelicans club (ironic in two ways). Late August also signifies the beginning of classes at OSU for the Autumn semester. That morning of the 25th I emailed with professors trying to make sure I stayed on top of my school work as I was enrolled to be in classes, but obviously would not physically be there until our season was over. I could not take online courses because of how deep into my major (Sociology) I already was.
For the next two-plus weeks I would wake up early – knock out papers, do research, online quizzes and readings – while still having to play games and compete at night. Day games were the exception to the rule. Post-game study sessions were then reluctantly held in my room or at the local coffee shop.
Thankfully I wasn’t in this fight alone. My roommate on the road, Brian Clark, and fellow pitcher Carson Fulmer both were also enrolled in classes during the home stretch of the season. We would often go to Starbucks on the road or find the computer lab in the hotel we were staying in. Nothing better than minor league hotel wireless internet, let me tell you.
My normal activities in the clubhouse when I have downtime include listening to music, checking Twitter, watching TV or talking baseball/whatever is the talking point of the ball club with the boys. That downtime changed to reading assignments and homework. My laptop now came with me to the ballpark for academic purposes. The routine went something like workout, stretch, throw, batting practice, eat – try to complete small amounts of homework – lock back into baseball mode, and then prepare for game time. I am so thankful this only lasted 2-plus weeks. I am also very thankful for Starbucks coffee and its effects.
After turning down the possibility of playing winter ball after the season commenced, I told my professors in early August that I would be back in Columbus and in class on Thursday, September 8th – the day after the season ended. One problem – the Dash were red hot and we made the playoffs. I was ecstatic we made the playoffs and that our season-long journey paid off, but also knew that this was a pretty big obstacle in my semester to complete my degree by missing another couple days of lectures and in-class notes. Unfortunately the season ended on September 11th, a Friday night. Two days later, Monday, September 14th I was sitting in Mendenhall Laboratory on the beautiful campus of Ohio State at 9 am for my Sociological Statistics lecture. I went from the bullpen to the classroom. From that morning to mid-December I had class 4 days a week, interned for the OSU athletic department and didn’t skip a beat of training.
For Those 2 weeks in September, I wasn’t just an athlete or ballplayer. I was what the NCAA propagandizes against: an athlete-student. Baseball came first, then school. That juggling act is one I will never forget and am now proud that I took part of. I graduated on December 20th with a bachelors degree in Sociology from The Ohio State University. I am now a proud graduate of a prestigious Big Ten university, and still working to make the Major Leagues. I am not one of 400,000 who went pro in something other than athletics, I am now the exception to the rule – a professional athlete who went back and finished my degree. I believe I have set myself up for a successful future after my playing days are over – whenever that may be (I have no plans to stop playing for quite a while). I worked hard for that diploma, and will continue to work hard to make it to the big leagues.
Special Thanks to my parents, family, The Ohio State University, Student Athlete Support Services, my professors throughout my career and especially this past semester my coaches and managers with the Buckeyes and White Sox for helping me earn my degree while still being able to play baseball and work towards my ultimate goal of playing Major League Baseball.
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