Julio Cortez / AP
Friday, May 18, 2012 | 2:05 a.m.
Minutes after the Las Vegas 51s finished this extra-inning baseball game, infielder Chris Woodward rushed to the clubhouse and cracked open his laptop computer.
The 35-year-old Woodward, who has played in parts of 12 seasons in the big leagues, is preparing for life after baseball by attending online courses at the University of Phoenix. After nearly three years of taking classes, he’s a few credits away from a degree in business management. Make no doubt about it, balancing the responsibilities of a professional ballplayer and attending college hasn’t been easy.
On this evening, with the game ending almost at midnight, Woodward had just minutes to put the finishing touches on his assignment.
“There are some days where I cut it close,” he said. “In Fresno, the game went 15 innings and didn’t get finished until 11:45. I had my work done but had to run it through a program to clean it up. I was sitting there in my spikes and uniform on my computer.”
Some days, he’ll use the two hours of downtime between batting practice and the start of the game to study. And, on most nights, he’ll pass on socializing with teammates after the game in favor getting ahead academically.
“It is an accomplishment, especially since I’m doing it while playing. Guys have kind of seen me grinding through the season,” Woodward said. “They are like, ‘Do you want to have some beers?’ I have to tell them I have homework to do.”
Added Las Vegas manager Marty Brown, “He is very dedicated to his studies. He spends more time on the computer in the clubhouse than at the card table. You have to respect him for that.”
Woodward, who is batting just .265 with one home run and seven RBIs in 68 at-bats with Las Vegas, knows this might be his last season chasing the big-league dream. He’s played in just 52 major league games since 2009, and last April during his most recent big-league appearance, he went hitless in 10 at-bats.
But Woodward is far from finished making contributions to the game. Several believe he’ll transition to a job in managing, scouting or in the front office and thrive in his role working with younger players.
That’s one of the things he takes pride in Triple-A Las Vegas. While Woodward is competing against the younger players for a spot in Toronto, he also is more than accommodating in showing them the right way to play the game and how to be a professional.
“It is really nice to see a guy like him care about his teammates the way he does,” Brown said. “He wants to go out and win every day. When he talks with the younger players, it not only helps develop them but is also the best case for this team. It’s really important to have a guy like that as a manager.”
Woodward first reached the big leagues in 1999 with Toronto and remembers players such as Dave Martinez (now the bench coach with the Tampa Bay Rays) being hands on in helping mentor the younger players.
Woodward, whose career has included stops with five big league teams, is a lifetime .239 hitter with 33 home runs and 191 RBIs. Along the way, he’s played every position except pitcher and catcher. He could talk for hours about the adversity of pro baseball — from sticking in the leagues to being away from your family (his wife and three children live in Florida) while on the road.
“I would have moved on if I didn’t feel I could play at the big-league level,” Woodward said. “But at the same time, I take a lot pride in mentoring and showing these kids the right way to do things. I guess the right way to say it is being a pro. Some of the kids don’t get it at an early age. The are a lot of things that will not only help you succeed as a player but help the team succeed and also further your career — just the little things kids take for granted on a daily basis.”
Woodward sensed his career was ending about three years ago and, like several athletes without an education, worried about what his post-playing life would look like. While he didn’t need a degree to become a scout or manager, Woodward feels the organizational and leadership skills acquired during his business courses will be a tremendous asset during the next phase of his life.
“My first year not in the big leagues was 2008, and that was a big eye-opener,” he said. “I realized this (his playing career) could be over tomorrow. I didn’t want to get caught with my pants down when my career was over with nothing to fall back on. I wanted to make myself more valuable for whatever was next (after baseball).”
It’s that type of attitude, Brown said, that makes him the complete package.
“He is a really mature guy who has an idea of what he wants to do. He is going to make an excellent manager,” Brown said. “He has a real good feel for what needs to go on in the clubhouse and for what the younger players are going through. He is the type of guy who is going to be very valuable (for an organization).”