Robin Ventura remains accustomed to working under pressure situations, five seasons after managing the White Sox.
His current deadlines occur close to midnight with the aid of equipment that wasn’t available during his three seasons as one of college baseball’s greatest hitters.
Ventura, 54, returned last January to Oklahoma State as a student coach and is one semester away from earning his bachelor’s degree in General Business.
“There are kids on my team in the same classes, so I kind of nudge them a bit as far as getting assignments turned in on time,” Ventura said last week.
It’s a remarkable transformation for Ventura, who could have remained retired after a 16-year major league playing career that included six Gold Glove awards for his defensive prowess at third base.
“(OSU head coach) Josh Holliday tells me, ‘You’re my academic guy,’ ” Ventura joked.
With his four kids grown up, Ventura found himself returning to Stillwater, Okla., for Cowboys football games for sheer enjoyment.
Former major league slugger Matt Holliday joined the OSU staff in the summer of 2019 as a volunteer assistant to head coach and older brother Josh and encouraged Ventura to join the staff in some capacity.
“Finally, just sitting here one day, I thought that would be kind of fun to just do it,” Ventura recalled.
So Ventura, who signed with the White Sox after his junior season, expressed his interest to the Hollidays.
But with NCAA limits on full-time and volunteer coaches, Ventura learned the only way he could join the staff would be with a student coach designation.
“Ooo,” was Ventura’s first reaction. But the thought of coaching and returning to complete his undergraduate requirements appealed to him.
“There’s a little bit that bugs you didn’t finish what you started,” Ventura said. “I got nothing saying I shouldn’t do it or nothing else to do. We’ll try to figure this out.”
There were some hurdles Ventura had to clear because of his 30-year academic layoff. He discovered some of his previously completed courses weren’t applicable toward graduation.
Another challenge was getting used to writing term papers on computers and tablets instead of writing them on 8½-by-11 sheets of paper.
“That was a very big adjustment,” Ventura said. “I can do a little bit of it, but my rate of getting it done compared to the kids is a lot different. They can whip it out like it’s no big deal. It takes me a while to learn how to use them.”
The balance of coaching and studying placed a premium on free time.
“I don’t have a lot of time to do anything else,” Ventura said.
The coaching staff spends more hours than the players at the ballpark, leaving Ventura with mornings and late nights to study. NCAA rules limiting the number of practice hours often result in one day off each week where Ventura tries to get most of his academic work completed.
“The baseball part is fairly normal,” Ventura said. “When you’re there and looking at the time, you think, “Oh, God, I got to get a paper in by midnight. I got to hustle to get it done.”
The toughest part might be over for Ventura. He re-enrolled in January and carried 12 units while getting acclimated to the demands of the college baseball season.
“It wasn’t like the fall where everything is a little lighter,” said Ventura, who admitted he was “toast” after trying to figure out his academic requirements and time management.
With the assistance of Dr. Marilyn Middlebrook, Ventura’s academic adviser in the late 1980s who now is OSU’s Associate Athletic Director/Academic Affairs, he has remained organized despite the challenges of organizational behavior and business management courses.
“Those are pretty tough,” Ventura said.
Ventura’s status as a student coach prevent him from recruiting off-campus, which he’s happy about because of his current academic obligations.
At the same time, he relishes the opportunity to work with the corner infielders and share hitting duties with Matt Holliday.
“We each have different drills we relied on when we played, so if it doesn’t work with one guy, we just switch around,” Ventura said.
The Cowboys could advance further than they did last June, when they were eliminated in the third game of the NCAA Regionals at Tucson.
A deep run in 2022 would occur shortly after Ventura is scheduled to graduate, but he’s not sure what’s in store in the future.
“I don’t really have a grand plan of past it,” Ventura said. “I just like what I’m doing. It’s really fun. I’m having a really good time.”