Boston — Tigers pitcher Matthew Boyd is among a growing minority of major-league players who have earned a four-year college degree. He was asked what percentage of drafted big-leaguers went back and earned or finished their degree.
“I think it’s really small,” he said. “I went back for my senior year and finished up the following quarter after my first half-season in pro ball. Me and three other guys who were drafted from Oregon State that year graduated.
“That’s probably on the high end.”
Way on the high end. Recent surveys show that less than five percent of big-league players have earned a college degree. In 2012, according to a survey done by Fox Sports, only 39 of the more than 900 players that played in a big-league game that year had their degrees.
Which makes what Trenton’s Anthony Bass accomplished, at age 30, more than 10 years since he was drafted in the fifth round by the Padres, astounding.
In between cameo appearances on the E! reality show "Eric and Jessie," in between getting married and having a baby daughter, in between chasing his baseball dream from Round Rock, Texas, to Japan, back to Round Rock and then to Des Moines, Iowa, — Bass somehow found time to complete his bachelor’s degree in business from Wayne State University.
“I got an email the second week of May saying I’d earned my diploma,” said Bass, calling from Des Moines, where he is pitching for the Cubs' Triple-A affiliate. “I completed my final exam at the end of April and got the email saying my diploma would be in the mail.
“I can’t tell you how good that feels.”
Degree on hold
Think about this. His last full semester at Wayne State was winter of 2008. He was drafted that June. Three years later he made his major-league debut and pitched in parts of six seasons with the Padres, Astros and Rangers.
He returned to take classes in the fall 2009 and 2010. But he was still 36 credit hours short of a degree from the Michael Ilitch School of Business.
And, as he ascended through the Padres’ minor-league system, he put his educational pursuits on hold for six years.
“It just wasn’t working out with my baseball schedule,” he said. “I’d finish the season at the end of September, early October, and the semester had already started. The winter semester would start and then I’d have to go to spring training.
“It was tough, especially with a business degree. I wanted to be in class in person.”
There were other problems, too. Obviously, he needed to finish the degree taking online classes and he was seeking a specialization in finance — and there weren’t a lot of online courses available in that specialization.
He was close to throwing in the towel when he met with academic adviser Kimberly Clexton.
“She really helped me figure it out,” Bass said. “She sort of mapped it out for me, how I could get my degree online.”
The one sacrifice, though, was that he had to put the finance specialization aside and focus on management information systems.
“He was really thoughtful about it and we talked to the assistant dean of the business school and she was fantastic, working through the logistics, which were difficult,” Clexton said. “He was in Japan for most of it, playing professional baseball.
“And he also got married and had a baby. And, by the way, he got spectacular grades while he did it, too. It’s not like he just phoned it in. He got all A’s and an A-minus, I believe.”
From 2016, when he signed to pitch for Nippon in the Japanese Professional League, to this spring, he completed 30 credit hours online from Wayne State and another six (two accounting classes that weren’t offered online at Wayne State) from Schoolcraft College.
“I’d always wanted to finish my college education, even before I went to Wayne State,” Bass said. “My goal when I went there was to get my degree and play baseball. It just so happened I was fortunate enough to continue to play professional baseball.”
But the true motivation to finish, and finish now, came from his daughter Brooklyn, now nine months old.
“I was always motivated to finish, but the one thing I wanted to make sure of was that my kid one day didn’t have an excuse to not get her degree,” Bass said. “She can’t come back to me now and say, ‘Well, you don’t have a college degree.’
“You don’t have a lot of credibility as a parent when you are telling your child to do something you didn’t do yourself.”
It seems counter-intuitive, but going halfway around the world to pitch in Japan actually facilitated his late academic push.
“I had a lot more down time over there,” he said. “The way they do it there with pitchers, I was a starting pitcher, so I could leave after three innings of the games I wasn’t starting. I could go home.
“I had more time to spend with my wife. Obviously, I wanted to start chipping away at my degree. That’s where my thought process began. I had all this down time, I might as well try to finish my degree.”
The time difference ended up not being an issue. As Clexton said, there weren’t set times where videos or lectures had to be watched. There weren’t set times he had to log in to a module.
“There were still deadlines, just like if you were in the classroom,” Bass said. “But you could finish at your leisure. You still have assignments that need to be finished and proctored exams where you have a time slot. Usually it was a 12-hour time slot, so I could wake up in the morning before going to the field and take my exam or get my assignments in.”
Still, it took some self-discipline, especially after a six-year break from academics.
“It’s tough,” he said. “You are kind of teaching yourself the material. Yeah, you listen to the instructors. You get web seminars and lectures, but it’s just not the same as in person. There are less distractions in a class room. You don’t have the TV on in the background. Your wife doesn’t come in and start talking to you while you are trying to study.”
As you might have seen on the E! reality show Eric and Jessie, Bass is married to Sydney Rae James, the younger sister of Jessie James Decker. He was flying to Nashville in the middle of everything else to appear on the show with his wife.
“She was super supportive of this,” Bass said of his degree. “She was just like me. She didn’t want our daughter to have any excuses about finishing her degree.”
Bass went 8-8 with a 3.65 ERA in Japan, which earned him another shot with the Texas Rangers. He got back to the big leagues briefly last season, pitching in two games. He signed a minor-league deal with the Cubs in December and has pitched well.
He is being used as a set-up man and closer, and he’s allowed six runs in 22 2/3 innings with 20 strikeouts and three saves.
“I feel good, I’m healthy and the ball is coming out good,” he said. “I just have to keep pitching well and hope I get an opportunity with the Cubs soon.”
He isn’t ready to give up on getting back to the big leagues, but he knows now that he has something tangible and hard-earned to fall back on. As he said, a business degree from Wayne State University is no joke.
“I’m fine,” he said. “This is kind of the grind, being in Triple-A. But I am just trying to focus on where I’m at right now and not try to get too far ahead of myself. There are a lot of politics in this game. You just have to focus on what you can control, and that’s my pitching.
“If I pitch well, everything will take care of itself.”
One of the first calls he made after he was notified he’d earned his degree was to Clexton.
“He called and asked if it posted yet,” she said. “I said it had and he said, ‘I’m so excited, I just want to make sure it’s all legit.’ We verified all of it. He just said, ‘Thank you so much; it’s been a great journey.’
“He was so appreciative. He’s really a stand-up guy. We’re excited to have him among our alumni, for a variety of reasons.”
Clexton said she’s not done with Bass just yet.
“I’m going to get after him to start his online MBA,” she said, laughing.
Wayne State isn’t done with him, either. Now that he is a graduate, he is eligible for the Wayne State Athletic Hall of Fame.