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This Arizona Diamondback is known for smart plays, on and off the field.
Imagine a career where employees’ successes and failures are published every day. One in which being successful only 30 percent of the time can land you awards, accolades, higher salaries and contract extensions. It’s called baseball. And it’s the career Paul Goldschmidt has chosen to pursue.
Or, maybe, baseball has chosen him. With his impressive stats, the 26-year-old first baseman for the Arizona Diamondbacks is a natural. And he’s quickly becoming a bona fide superstar at his job.
In 2013, Goldschmidt led the National League with 36 home runs, 125 RBIs and a .551 slugging percentage—impressive numbers that also earned him the Hank Aaron Award, a Gold Glove, a Silver Slugger, a trip to the All-Star Game and a second-place finish among sportswriters’ votes for the NL Most Valuable Player. And that was only his second full season in the big leagues.
“I’m living the dream,” he says. It’s about as much hyperbole as you’ll ever hear from the 2013 Bachelor of Science in Management grad. In spite of his crushing on-field dominance, Goldschmidt is incredibly humble.
“Just like tons of kids, I grew up loving baseball,” he says. But unlike most of his sandlot teammates back in suburban Houston, Texas, he loved math, too. He could calculate just how slim the odds were that any little boy could make a career out of a love for the game.
“The smart choice was always to concentrate on my education,” he says, doing long division out loud to explain, in the end, that among all players around the world, only 750 make it to the majors each season.
So, despite being scouted as early as high school, he went on to Texas State University where he played ball and studied finance. He was a standout on the field and off—setting school records for home runs and runs batted in, while making the deans list every semester. Then, as his junior year came to a close, the Diamondbacks selected him in the eighth round of the 2009 amateur draft.
“It was an opportunity of a lifetime,” he says. “I was on-track to graduate the following year. I’d worked so hard [in school] and I didn’t want it to go to waste. But in baseball, you just never know what to expect. So, when an opportunity like that opens up, you just have to take it.”
It took just two stellar minor league seasons with the D-backs to get called up to The Show in August of 2011. That’s when he decided it was time to return to his studies, too. His baseball contract came with a scholarship to any school of his choice in order to complete his degree.
He explored his options, including returning to Texas State, but “I quickly realized University of Phoenix was the way to go,” he recalls. “I could take all my courses online, one at a time. That really made sense for my schedule.”
It may seem counterintuitive to learn that he took most of his courses during each of the past two 162-game seasons, rather than wait for the fall and winter. But that made sense to him, too. During the season, he says, there’s a rhythm to the day that helped him plan for studying, writing papers and communicating with online classmates. Hotels and airplanes offered fewer distractions, he believed, than off-season fundraising and appearance commitments.
“Extra-inning games could make things interesting,” he notes. Lucky for him, the longest game in franchise history, an 18-inning endurance match against Philadelphia, was played on a Saturday, when there are generally few homework deadlines.
His final grade posted in September 2013, and the Diamondbacks hosted a press conference to celebrate his accomplishment. He’d kept his presence in school so low-key, that few University officials—or students—knew he’d been attending class.
But his teammates did. And on the final game of the 2013 season, as he took the field to chants of “MVP, MVP, MVP,” he learned he was actually playing in his own homecoming game. (The University of Phoenix Alumni Association Phoenix chapter has hosted its annual event at Chase Field for the past three years.)
“We heard the announcement before the game, and the guys were giving me a hard time about it,” Goldschmidt says. “I thought it was pretty cool.”
Baseball as a career is pretty cool for Goldschmidt, too. Sure, it’s stressful when everybody everywhere knows your successes and failures daily. But then, few of us are cheered on by tens of thousands of spectators every time we go to work.
Just try to imagine that.