Unfinished Business: Ventura graduates more than three decades after illustrious OSU baseball career
Tuesday, May 3, 2022
Media Contact: Jordan Bishop | Editor, Department of Brand Management | 405-744-7193 | firstname.lastname@example.org
When Robin Ventura drove over Cow Creek on his way to Stillwater, Oklahoma, 36 years ago, he had two things on his mind: baseball and school.
For the lightly recruited third baseman from Santa Maria, California, baseball was his passion. He never knew it would take him to the MLB, but Ventura understood it was a way for him to get an education and have some fun along the way.
And fun he had. Ventura dazzled Oklahoma State fans and pro scouts for three years, becoming king of college baseball with Allie P. Reynolds Stadium as his court. With a Division I record 58-game hitting streak in tow, Ventura was drafted by the Chicago White Sox in 1989 and seemingly never looked back.
After 1,182 hits, 16 years as a player, six Gold Gloves, five years as a manager, two All-Stars and a World Series appearance, Ventura did look back.
For all his baseball success, something still nagged at him: he never graduated. So in 2020, with his hair a touch more gray and Stillwater more of a city than the town he had left, Ventura came back to OSU.
It all started at a football tailgate. Ventura was hanging out with the OSU baseball coaching staff and thought he might like to come back and help out with the team.
“After managing the White Sox, I wasn’t really doing anything,” Ventura said. “And, I think coming back to the football game, and getting around the people that you know, just the atmosphere here, it just, it does something to you to make you feel a little younger, gives you a little energy.”
Cowboy baseball coach Josh Holliday, who had been a boy when Ventura was wearing the orange and black uniform, delivered the unique news that the only position open was as a student coach. Josh’s brother, Matt, a former MLB All-Star himself, already had the role of the volunteer assistant coach.
“I thought, ‘Oh, that’s a little bit of a change. I don’t know if I’m all in on that,’” Ventura said. “But I thought about it and figured this could actually be fun and it’s been great. I mean, it’s not easy, but it’s been a lot of fun.”
Instead of enjoying his retirement, maybe becoming a competitive griller — his speciality is tri-tip sandwiches — or realizing his lifelong dream of flying the Goodyear Blimp, Ventura decided it was time to get his degree.
"I mean, there’s always been something in there of not having a degree. You know,
that’s what you’re supposed to get when you come to college. And it’s always kind
of sat in the back of my head, like it would be a good thing to do."
"I mean, there’s always been something in there of not having a degree. You know, that’s what you’re supposed to get when you come to college. And it’s always kind of sat in the back of my head, like it would be a good thing to do."
Ventura re-enrolled at OSU, looking to earn a university studies degree. The only problem was though he had left as a junior, some of his classes didn’t transfer.
“Everything has changed. We can’t even compare degrees because they’re not the same anymore,” said Dr. Marilyn Middlebrook, associate athletics director and director of academic services for student-athletes.
Middlebrook had been on staff in the then-College of Education back in the mid-1980s. So when Ventura came to enroll, she recognized him immediately. While she said it is common for athletes to come back a few years later to finish their degrees, it almost never happens with someone who has already had the career success of Ventura. And it definitely never happens 30 years later.
“It’s been a tremendous learning experience for him,” Middlebrook said. “And it’s been a joy for us to see that he was able to go through and finish all this and finish it in less time than what we thought it would take.”
True to being an overachiever, Ventura graduated in May. a semester earlier than planned. Of course, he says, being able to go to class online helped. But unlike his classmates half his age, Ventura was also having to coach on top of his schoolwork.
“It’s actually hard to be able to be in school and coach at the same time, it’s just being able to put everything in there,” Ventura said. “When you’re a player, you kind of have your time and you’re supposed to be there. But as a coach, you’re there earlier, and you’re there later than everybody else. So squeezing class in is not very easy.”
Ventura has had to relive some of his early days in the MLB, with long bus trips for road games, except this time he has a laptop and is submitting his assignments. He mentioned there have been a few times that he has gotten close to the 11:59 p.m. Sunday assignment deadline, but he has completed all of his projects. Even if it has taken an all-nighter or two.
“I think really what takes kids probably 30 minutes to do would take me a couple hours when I first started,” Ventura said. “So I was really behind early on. I had to spend a lot of time, it was late nights, just because I was trying to figure out how am I uploading this, downloading that, sending that out, making sure everything was on time and I think that was different.”
Luckily, Ventura had some of his players who were in classes with him that he could work on assignments with. Ryan Bogusz, a sophomore pitcher from Frisco, Texas, was in Organizational Behavior class with Ventura and said he was an excellent study partner.
“He would talk to me about some stuff and how he kind of managed situations, studying and kind of balancing stuff,” said Bogusz, a management major.
Organizational Behavior was an interesting class for Ventura. In his time as manager of the White Sox, he knew all about the behavior of an organization. With his experience, he was able to help explain the class’s tenets in a personal way.
“He could talk about the professional lifestyle and how he holds himself and how everybody is kind of family up there,” Bogusz said. “So it just kind of teaches me how to relate that into my world, my baseball life, and then I could use some of this stuff later on in life in the business world.”
Of course, not all of his classes were with players. Ventura joked that on test days, he would show up and some students would think he was someone’s dad on a campus tour. One awkward moment happened on a Zoom call as he was working on a project with a fellow student.
“It was a girl and it scared her. She thought I was either a teacher or a creeper,” Ventura said. “And I had to calm her down. Like no, no, no, this is really it. But the good thing is what she needed answers for, I could help her with just because I had already been through the class.”
Middlebrook said Ventura has been a true role model for his players and other students. She hopes that after he graduates, he can find another role on staff because he has been so popular.
“He has experienced the life that they want to have. And so he can share with them what it’s really like rather than what they envision,” Middlebrook said.
He doesn’t know what his next step is. When asked about the possibility of getting a Master of Business Administration, he laughed. Although it might be a possibility in the future, Ventura said he will be content with his bachelor’s degree.
Dr. Ken Eastman, dean of Spears Business, said it has been a joy having the Cowboy baseball legend as a student taking business classes.
“As an educator, I’m proud that Robin has returned to OSU to complete his degree,” Eastman said. “I was also impressed with how seriously he is taking his studies — he certainly is a great example for all of our student-athletes. On a personal level, I’m impressed by his humility and sense of humor — it’s always enjoyable chatting with him.”
When Ventura arrived in Stillwater all those years ago, he remembers being dropped off by the Student Union and having to walk all the way to Bennett Hall with everything he owned on his back.
On May 7, he made another walk. Not the kind of walk which he had 1,075 of in his baseball career. This walk was across the stage in Gallagher-Iba Arena as he shook hands with Eastman and OSU President Kayse Shrum. He was finally a college graduate.
“I mean, there's always been something in there of not having a degree. You know, that’s what you’re supposed to get when you come to college,” Ventura said. “And it’s always kind of sat in the back of my head, like it would be a good thing to do.”
The Cowboys played a baseball game at O’Brate Stadium later that day. Ventura stood with his players after, arm-in-arm and sang the alma mater for the first time as an OSU alumnus.
“This place has meant a lot to me. I grew up here, really as far as becoming an adult, learning from people that were here, but also the baseball part of it, launching you into a direction that you didn’t really expect when you first got here,” Ventura said. “It’s meant a lot.”
Story By: Jordan Bishop | Engage@Spears Magazine