All across Maryland on Monday, many students will begin some form of online distance learning to continue their educations during the shutdowns caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
One Orioles coach knows what they’re going through well. Fredi Gonzalez, who was added to manager Brandon Hyde’s staff this winter to bring nearly a decade of major league managerial experience to the Orioles’ dugout, restarted his education last winter while he was on the Miami Marlins staff with online courses near his Pennsylvania home at Immaculata University.
More than halfway to a degree that he’s piecemealed together en route to being a successful major league manager, the 56-year-old Gonzalez fondly recalls the resumption of his education in the modern and now ubiquitous learning method.
“It really got my juices flowing, and also, I wanted to take a class to say, ‘You know what? I’m not done learning. I’m not an old-school guy,’” said González, who managed the Florida Marlins from 2007 to 2010 and the Atlanta Braves from 2011 to 2016 before returning to the Marlins staff for three seasons.
“I had to learn how to study again,” he said. “I had to learn how to get the information and here I am reading every sentence, every paragraph, every chapter of the lessons, and looking at the PowerPoints and reading them. Take a professional student, a young man or a woman who’s been doing it for three years, it probably takes them an hour to do it. It would take me three hours to do it, because you haven’t done it in such a long time. Write every single note on the presentation, go back and look at it again, write it again. But it was fun and I was really open minded.”
Part of the motivation was baseball-related, eager to prove that his age wouldn’t make him unwilling to learn the data-driven ways of the modern game. But he also recalled looking around the table at Thanksgiving and realizing that between his wife and the five children they have in their blended family, he was the only one without a college degree.
Gonzalez took some junior college classes during his playing career, and took classes at the University of Tennessee when he started out as a coach. When he was finished there, he estimates he had around 90 credits toward a degree. Upon transferring them to Immaculata, he was down to around 60, putting him about halfway to a degree.
He enrolled in two classes in the winter of 2019 for his business leadership degree — one on managing human capital and the other a business writing course. In the former, he embraced the online setting with a professor with whom “you felt like you were in the front row, center seat, every day,” González said. He said he’d go into the basement study for three hours a day during the offseason, combing through the work and getting chastised for his daughter for not just skimming for the highlights.
He ended up dropping the writing class, however, since the online aspect made it harder to follow up on some of the lessons when the material was all being presented virtually.
But once spring training began and they went south to Florida with the Marlins last year, González realized that he was likely asking too much of himself.
He said: “I was getting up at three in the morning to do all of my studying before I went to the ballpark because I didn’t feel like I wanted to come home after a spring training game and tell my wife, ‘I don’t have time for you right now, can you give me a couple hours? I have to do some homework. I didn’t think that would fly. I don’t want to get divorced again.”
So, even as his education is paused, he took plenty from it. He got to speak to an analytics class at Immaculata about how he utilized it in a professional baseball setting, though he was surprised to find out that most of the students enrolled in the class were more interested in applying the numbers to gambling than building careers in baseball.
He also used the newfound learning energy he had to get a better understanding of the analytics and data that drive the game now, which he’s viewing through the lens of a lifetime in the dugout.
Back in Pennsylvania after spring training was cut short because of the pandemic, Gonzalez now all the time his studies would have required, although with the uncertainty of when baseball will start again, it’s a difficult time to plan for more classes.
He hopes, however, to be able to pick classes back up at some point.
“I’m not going to stop it,” he said. “I’m hoping to be able to finish one day, but that’s just for me, just to put a piece of paper on a wall to say, ‘Hey, it took me 50 years to graduate college.’”
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