School is starting soon… or for some of you, it might’ve already started. Either way, learning happens every day. I’ve learned a little bit since my first sojourn into the Rockies clubhouse. One of the things I learned besides the idea that I probably really shouldn’t be clapping after a good play in the press box, was that it’d be a good idea to have a plan for future meanderings into Purple Territory. The clubhouse is the players’ home so I figured it’d be a good idea to have a plan for why I’m knocking at their metaphorical front door or lingering in their living room. The funny thing is I have a degree in history and a degree in education but I’ve hardly used it except on the CNN comments board and Facebook threads. Still, school holds a special place in my heart and is part of the reason why I like writing since it gives me that opportunity to teach just a little bit.
In a roundabout way semi-inspired by my chat with LaTroy Hawkins about Chicago schools during my first encounter in the clubhouse, I got to wondering how often major league baseball players still think about school. Did they forget about school completely once they “played baseball for a living”? Do they wax nostalgic about their experiences? To gain some insight on this, I decided to poll some players to get an idea of what their experiences in school were like, particularly in grade school and high school. I wanted to know what their favorite subject was, what was their hardest subject, how did they balance school with sports and, for fun, what was their favorite field trip. My hope is that if you’re a kid (or know a kid) that likes the Rockies and perhaps plays a sport while juggling school, by reading some of their responses you (or that kid you know) will get similarly inspired.
Favorite Subject: My favorite class growing up was always some kind of a math class. I seemed to enjoy math and I was better at it than any other subject. If it wasn’t math, it was probably history, I liked learning about different types of wars and everything like that so that was always cool. Business calculus was the farthest math I took. As far as different wars, I liked hearing about the Civil War and Revolutionary War.
Hardest Subject: There was a math class I didn’t like, geometry. I was pretty good at the trig but my worst subject was probably science. I did pretty good in biology but I wasn’t good at physics.
Balancing School and Sports: My parents were always big on getting good grades and doing your best so that always kind of pushed me. I never wanted to let them down so I always tried my hardest in school and ended up doing well. I will go back to finish my degree at some point, so I’ll do that, not just for me but also for my parents. I’ll say that they are the reasons I tried so hard at school. I went to Alabama for three years and I have one year left on my bachelor’s degree.
Favorite Field Trip: I grew up in north Alabama and Huntsville is not too far away. We went to the space and rocket center there. I think we did that almost every year and so that was always fun. We went to the McWayne center in Birmingham and always watched a cool IMAX movie whether it’d be about the ocean and learning about different types of fish.
Favorite Subject: My favorite subject in school was math. I was always a numbers guy, really good with numbers and to this day, it’s always going through my head. Whatever it is, it’s math. I took calculus my senior year in high school. So I was in advanced AP, I guess you could say, in my senior year. Just a step or two ahead. But I didn’t go to college so calculus was the last math class I took. I remember doing math problems that took three pages to figure it out. It’s definitely something that one day I’d like to pick it back up and do it just for the fun of it because it interested me a lot.
Hardest Subject: The funny thing is, and I think about it sometimes, but it’s English, writing papers. I always did pretty well in school but that was a subject that never caught my eye. I did it good, but math and science with the equations interested me a lot. The English stuff with writing papers just wasn’t my forte.
Balancing School and Sports: It was fairly easy to balance sports and school. Whenever I got home my mom and dad always told me “Hey, get your work done, then you can go practice.” I grew up with some good buddies down the road when I was in elementary school. After school we went straight home, got our homework done, read our books, whatever we needed to do, just so we could go play. But that was a time for focus when we would take an hour to make sure my work was done and done right and thenmy reward was “Now I get to go play and go have fun.”
Focusing. When you go to class, you’re there for one reason and that’s to learn. My parents taught me pretty well to always give a good effort and I feel I’ve taken that on to baseball and other things. Listen to what the teacher says, in baseball listen to what the coaches says. They’re there to help you, to better you, so I kind of took pride in my school work because I wanted to make good grades and definitely what I learned in the classroom has helped me on the field and in life. Just focusing on the task at hand and focusing on whatever is going to make you better at what you are doing.
Favorite Field Trip: I went down to Jekyll island. That’s in Georgia, close to Savannah. We went down on a little field trip. I was in 5th grade and we walked through the marshes so we had to buy big rainboots and coveralls. I remember going to a little lake. There were alligators there. We got off the bus but I remember specifically our teachers telling us “These gators are going to swim up to you but they’re going to swim slow, but once they get to land, they get real quick”, so we made sure to get back on the bus. That field trip really stood out to me because it was real hands on, we’re at the beach, had to walk through the marsh, got to see the alligators and all that.
Favorite Subject: I was always a math guy. You know, I did pretty well in school and took a lot of pride in doing well in everything but math always came fairlyeasy to me, but going up the ladder from algebra through geometry and calculus and all that kind of stuff. It was always fun for me yet challenging the higher you went up. I took calculus including integrals my senior year but there are so many classes the older you get, especially when you get into college and I was a business major so your accounting and economic classes all apply math. So I spent quite a few years in the classroom for that.
Hardest Subject: Some of those high level calculus classes. You’re doing math stuff, but essentially it’s more problem solving. You’re not even working with numbers, you’re working with variables. It’s kind of a tough concept to grasp sometimes. In high school, some of my upper division English classes, like AP English, we had a teacher who had been around for awhile and she expected a lot from us with essays and readings.
We did some in depth reviews of Shakespeare in those English classes and I think that’s something I never probably would’ve read or enjoyed or comprehended on my own. So looking back, your MacBeth and your Julius Caesar are things I’m glad we did what we did or else I probably would not have gotten into that kind of stuff.
Balancing School and Sports: It was tough. I played four sports all the way through my senior year of high school so there was always something going on regardless of the time of year and it definitely was a challenge trying to balance the two, even in my college years. But I was lucky that my parents instilled in me the importance of getting my school work done and making it a top priority so when I got home, homework or studying always came first before any of the fun stuff. So I think by having that prioritized and getting it out of the way first it allowed me to take care of both things.
It teaches you how to manage your life. Even if it’s not the ABCs of a classroom that you take, you learn how to manage your time, you learn how to prioritize and I think in life those things are all extremely important and you learn how to manage yourself. Outside of the things you may or may not remember from the classroom, it helps your problem solving and living your life.
Favorite Field Trip: When I was in middle school we took a trip to a science museum that was probably an hour away. It was where you go to spend a day and I would say, not to this scale, but it would be like taking a trip to the Smithsonian in Washington and getting to see a lot of stuff you normally wouldn’t have. And I remember thinking outside the box and it really forces you to do that and exposes you to a lot of things you normally wouldn’t have.
Favorite Subject: I wasn’t a big school guy but I would say I had an interest in math. I took the normal stuff, the geometry and three or four math classes in high school.
Hardest Subject: English was tough for me, writing papers is not my forte. If I had to pick a favorite book, I remember reading “Of Mice and Men”.
Balancing School and Sports: High school wasn’t very hard as far as balancing school and sports, college was harder. School was a normal day and probably sitting in it nearly as long and just getting the homework in.
Favorite Field Trip: We went to the Reidsville Georgia prison (Rogers State Prison). That was pretty interesting. One of the inmates had been there for a long time would kind of scare everybody. Other than that, we didn’t go on many field trips.
Favorite Subject: High school would probably be biology, anatomy, I had the same teacher for that, Dr. Gifford, and he was one of my favorites so anything he taught was pretty easy. Well it wasn’t easy, just fun to go to his class. He’s a science teacher. You think of the prototypical science teacher with the short sleeve shirt, Oxford with the pen and booklet. I think he’s one of the only teachers to ever call me by my full name, Benjamin. That was one of those things that stuck with me. I took Biology 1 and 2 then after those, you could take Anatomy 1 and 2. I was going to go to a junior college but I was taking those classes just to be in his class.
Hardest Subject: All the math classes were pretty tough. I didn’t really like calculus and precalc and working on those numbers and all those algorithms and using a calculator wasn’t my forte.
Balancing School and Sports: Like Brooksie (Brooks Brown) said, balancing school and sports in high school was pretty easy so it was one of those things where I could just do the work. I didn’t need to study and I got A’s and B’s and once I got to college, classes got a little tougher but we had the resources for tutors so I took advantage of that to make it easier and manage my time.
Favorite Field Trip: In elementary school they took us to the Jekyll Island 4-H camp so we went down to Jekyll Island and were on the beach four or five days with your elementary school buddies. That’s one of those cool things where it’s one of the first times you go away from home by yourself. We saw a turtle berth where they dig those deep holes. It’s one of those things that sticks with you.
Favorite Subject: I really enjoyed science and math. Those were the two I was really good at. I also liked history when I got into high school, economics as well. It’s all kind of the same thing, it all feeds together. I loved basic science in elementary school when I was younger. When I got into high school, I was really into economics and world history. I think the past repeats itself so the more you know about the past the more you’re going to know about the future.
Hardest Subject: English… I was really bad at writing papers. I just never got along well with English teachers. The thing I like about math is there’s one result and you just got to figure out what that one result is. English is tougher to figure out what the one answer is. I was never really good at that.
Balancing School and Sports: When I was younger, it was “go to school, mom would pick you up for practice, you’d have clothes sitting in the car, you’d change while you were in the car, and you’re out either at practice or you had a midweek game for baseball and then you’d come home, do some homework, go to bed then do it all over again.” You know I did that for baseball, basketball, soccer, whatever sport I was playing it was the same thing. I had two other brothers the same age so my mom was running all over the place and driving us to every single practice she could and I think it was more taxing on her than it was on us. That’s why she put 30,000 miles on her car in a year, she was driving all over the place.
Favorite Field Trip: Fifth grade science camp, we went up to Big Bear Mountain, I don’t remember the exact camp but it was up in the Big Bear Mountain area and it was a week long camp up there and it was a lot of fun. Got to go up in the snow and it was during November and it was a great time. We had to do a dance routine and we chose Backstreet Boys… no, it was N’Sync… it was some boy band, and five or six of my friends and I did it. It was a talent show thing and our camp counselor was the one who came up with the idea. It was pretty fun. Really embarrassing but pretty fun.
Some additional thoughts
This is the kind of subject that could’ve generated a lot of blank stares but even Brooks Brown eagerly humored me. While talking with each player, I had that odd feeling of how I spent quite a few years going to school so that I could make a fairly decent living… yet some of the players I had talked to, though they make significantly better livings being professional athletes, still thought fondly of school and expressed a desire to return one day. I was a bit surprised at the many players expressing a disdain for English when, in hindsight, it might be more useful as a public media figure… though I doubt anyone in the media would be asking them to write a paper any time soon. Still, even with the mild displeasure with English class, I heard the word “forte” more over in that hour’s worth of interviews than I hear during a day at my local coffee shop. Regarding math, I got interested in math because of the statistics on the back of baseball cards and, vice versa, learned more about math by trying to calculate the statistics from newspaper box scores by hand. So while I might’ve expected players to be interested in math, it was also personally interesting to me to see them go beyond basic statistics into calculus which is hardly an easy “A” course.
Another aspect touched on by many of the players I talked to was the importance of their parents to their success. Whether it was taking the players, as kids, to games or making sure they balanced schoolwork with sports practice, there was the sentiment that they would not have been successful at sports or in school without their parents help. Furthermore, by learning to listen to their parents, they were able to take that patience and openmindedness into the sports world which made them more receptive to coaches.
Jekyll Island. Perhaps the Rockies, being a culture-driven organization, have identified some market inefficiency in players who, as children, go there on that field trip. Being exposed to alligators and turtles might indoctrinate young players to the sometimes controversial Dinger mascot. There might be something about reptilianesque mascots crouching behind home plate in pressure situations during the late innings of ballgames that might intimidate opposing baseball players who have not had first hand experience, so the Rockies stockpile such vaccinated players so that Dinger’s dragonfear can run rampant on opposing teams while leaving the Rockies blissfully immune. If so, the data i.e. Rockies win-loss record does not indicate how many wins Dinger dynamics has generated for the Colorado Rockies in 2014 but further research might be needed. Or maybe I’m just having fun with a coincidence while idly wondering if Culberson, Paulsen and Brown exchanged notes on recommended gator aid kits.
Nonetheless, whether you study or play, balancing the two while respecting those who spent time to support and educate them is something the players learned in school and took with them later on in life. They continue to learn, about themselves and about their world which includes as much baseball as it does world history. Some enjoyed it so much they plan on returning to school. So, the next time you have to skip playing in the park with your friends because your parents told you to finish that English essay or that chapter in your math workbook, take comfort in the idea that even those who play a game for a living have been where you are and, even today, might even envy you.