It’s that time of year on college campuses. Students are taking final exams, whether it’s in person or online.
One of those students who is cramming for his finals is 53-year-old former Mets and Yankees third baseman Robin Ventura, who is working to finish his undergraduate degree at his alma mater, Oklahoma State.
Why would a two-time MLB All-Star and former manager of the Chicago White Sox be hitting the books along with 18-to-21-year-olds? Ventura is doing it so he can work as a student assistant coach on the Cowboys baseball team.
The unique idea was floated to Ventura in January 2020 because he wanted to coach at Oklahoma State, but the school didn’t have an opening except for a student assistant.
To get that job, you have to be a student.
So Ventura agreed to go back to school, sometimes in classes with the same players he is coaching — players who weren’t close to being born 34 years ago when Ventura set an NCAA record with a 58-game hitting streak.
Some were infants when he homered off Orlando Hernandez in Game 3 of the 2000 Subway Series at Shea Stadium, the only game the Mets won in that series against the Yankees.
Ventura might have found playing college baseball easy since he hit .428 in three seasons at Oklahoma State before getting drafted 10th overall by the White Sox in 1988.
But college classes? That’s not so easy.
"It’s a little difficult at this age, to have to coach and do it at the same time," Ventura said earlier this week. "It’s a bit much. I’ll say that. It’s been great doing the baseball stuff. But it’s a bit challenging getting back into it as a student. Everything now — compared to when I was in school — is apps and computer programs. Probably when it takes kids 30 minutes to do something, it takes me two hours just to get it all figured out and do it."
Ventura said his classes include digital media and business management. He’s going virtual this semester and hopes to take classes in-person in the next one. One more semester is all he needs to become a college graduate.
No matter your age when you get it, that diploma is still an accomplishment and can still help open doors in the job market, even if you are a former major-leaguer who hit 294 home runs and won six Gold Glove awards.
"Most places [in college], you have to have a degree to coach," Ventura said. "It just opens up some opportunities. I don’t really plan on using it that way. It’s just one way for me to coach here."
Ventura spent 16 years in the majors, including 1999-2001 with the Mets and 2002-03 with the Yankees. He managed the White Sox from 2012-16.
In October 2017, when the Mets were looking for a manager, Ventura’s name was floated. But he declined to be interviewed, saying he wasn’t interested in a big-league job. The Mets hired Mickey Callaway.
Would Ventura be interested in getting back into a major-league dugout?
"Who knows?" he said. "Right not, I just enjoy doing this, coaching and who I’m coaching with and where I’m coaching at. I really enjoy it."
Oklahoma State’s 2020 season was canceled after 18 games because of COVID-19. The head coach is Josh Holliday, brother of former major-leaguer Matt Holliday, who played for the Yankees in 2017. Matt Holliday is a volunteer assistant coach for the Cowboys.
And, yes, Ventura really does take classes with some of the same players he’s coaching.
"I make sure they’re keeping up," he said. "I can check on them."
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