When it came to school, former major leaguer Chris Woodward decided it was time to play ball
A funny thing happened to Chris Woodward on the way to completing his bachelor’s degree: He became a better baseball player.
“If I’d known then what I know now,” says the former major leaguer, “I’d have gone back to school a lot sooner.”
Instead, it took him almost 20 years between attending his first class at a junior college in Southern California and graduating in 2012 with a degree in business management from University of Phoenix.
In the interim, Woodward became known around the league for his defensive skills as a utility infielder. He was signed to five teams in his career, playing extensively for the Toronto Blue Jays. And while his batting record wasn’t great, he’s one of an elite group of shortstops to hit three home runs in one game.
In a sport where numbers are part of the national pastime, Woodward hit .239 during his 12 years in the majors. But in school, he pulled off a 3.93 GPA.
Woodward started thinking about his future in 2008 when he hit a slump and was sent to a minor league team in Nashville. The then-32-year-old father of three realized he wasn’t prepared for anything beyond being a professional athlete.
“When I saw my career coming to an end — when teams were no longer interested in me — that was a real eye-opener,” he says. He noticed a few of his teammates taking online classes at the University, so he decided to look into it.
In the two hours between batting practice and the game, teammates would find him in the clubhouse, dressed to play, at his laptop participating in an online class discussion.
Today, he believes going back to college not only improved, but extended, his playing career. “I think concentrating on school actually got me back into the big leagues for a bit longer,” he says. “I was in class during spring training in 2009 and got called back up. School took away from the stress I usually put on myself.”
He admits he’s his own harshest critic. He internalizes, analyzes and rethinks every play, the personification of Yogi Berra’s famous quote: “Baseball is 90 percent mental. The other half is physical.”
For Woodward, the classwork was a welcome distraction. In the two hours between batting practice and the start of a game, teammates would often find him in the clubhouse, dressed to play, at his laptop participating in an online class discussion or drafting the week’s research paper.
Along with getting good grades, Woodward says he became an expert at time management, although extra innings could be maddening — especially on a Monday when a paper was due by midnight.
But he did it — all online, one class at a time, year-round, with hardly any breaks.
“My experience at University of Phoenix is, to date, one of my greatest and most satisfying accomplishments,” he says.
Woodward retired from playing at the end of the 2012 season, not long after graduating. But his career in baseball is far from over. He’s now the minor league infield coordinator for the Seattle Mariners.
He credits his college work for his new position, too. “For my job interview, I looked at the Mariners’ organization as a business model and delivered a PowerPoint® presentation to management about how a team works together,” he says. “There’s no way I could have stood up there and done that without the experience and confidence I gained at University of Phoenix.”
Editor’s note (Jan. 22, 2014):
Woodward has returned to Major League Baseball for the 2014 season — this time as the Seattle Mariners infield coach. He joins a revamped coaching staff that’s looking for a fresh start, something to which he’s already contributed. In his year-long stint as the minor league infield coordinator, Woodward played a key role in developing the skills of two young infielders who subsequently were promoted to the Mariners active roster.
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