The former Sox third baseman and manager is back in touch with his college self. If there’s someplace he’d rather be than Stillwater, Okla., he doesn’t know where it is.
It’s not as if big-league baseball has forgotten all about Robin Ventura. Opportunity still knocks on occasion for the former White Sox third baseman and manager, whose last season with the club was in 2016. It’s just that he isn’t listening.
Ventura, 53, is too busy going nowhere — and loving it.
“Things are really good,” he said.
One of the great college hitters of all time, Ventura — a three-time All-American, two-time RBI champ, national player of the year and owner of an incredible 58-game hitting streak — is back at Oklahoma State, his alma mater, as a student assistant with the baseball team.
You caught the “student” part, didn’t you?
It was January of 2020 when Ventura returned to his Cowboys roots, intending to pursue the undergraduate degree he’d never completed. Going through a divorce at the time, and his children grown, Ventura felt in his gut that it was the right move. What he didn’t anticipate was a pandemic that would cut short the college season, keep him out of the classroom — “e-learning,” seriously? — and eventually pound him for two weeks with the worst flu-like symptoms he’d ever felt.
COVID-19 caught up with Ventura — since fully vaccinated — during winter break of this school year. He got through it, quarantining at his home in Stillwater, and last week took the last final exams of what essentially was his junior year. He still has two semesters and 24 credits to go before he’ll earn his bachelor’s degree in business management.
And then what?
“Not sure,” he said. “I don’t really have a grand plan. Maybe it’ll lead to something else.”
Meantime, Ventura has a new house that he really digs. He has a favorite golf course. The hunting and fly fishing — in a nice spot right by the Arkansas state line — are to his liking.
And he’s back in touch with his college self — in a baseball sense, too — which is special. Head coach Josh Holliday is an old friend whose father, Tom, was on the OSU staff (he later moved up to the head job) when Ventura was a player. Josh’s younger brother, Matt — the former seven-time big-league All-Star — is a volunteer assistant. Pitching coach Rob Walton is one of Ventura’s old Cowboys teammates.
Ventura helps the corner infielders with their defense and everybody with their bats, and what kid wouldn’t be smart enough to listen to a guy who won six Gold Gloves (five with the Sox), belted nearly 300 big-league homers and knocked in nearly 1,200 runs?
That goes even for those Cowboys players — there are a few of them — who have classes with a certain student assistant or, like senior outfielder Cade Cabbiness, are further along in the business school.
“Guys will tease him about having a test or homework, which is pretty funny to watch,” Cabbiness said. “But I think it’s pretty cool what he’s doing. That guy could be doing a lot of things. Instead, he’s here coaching and getting his college degree. And he’s relatable, personable, patient and easygoing. I’m just glad I get to see that guy every day.”
If there’s someplace Ventura would rather be, he can’t think of it.
“It’s just a fun group to be around,” he said. “It’s very comfortable. The kids are great. The age group is very fun. I love it.”
As much as managing in the majors, though? Even if, in Ventura’s case, that meant replacing a World Series winner in Ozzie Guillen.
“I enjoy them both,” he said. “I enjoyed managing the Sox. And this was an opportunity that came up that I thought was exciting and fun and different, and I just felt like doing it. Why not? If the baseball is good, it’s good — no matter where it is.”
The truth is, it isn’t the baseball piece that’s ever a problem. Staying organized and on time with all things school — e-learning, seriously? — presents less-familiar challenges. Countless students, or parents of students, out there can relate to that.
When Ventura arrived on campus, he imagined himself sitting in a classroom and noticing young eyes on him.
“What the heck is this old guy doing in here?” they’d wonder.
What’s he doing? Living his life. And managing better than OK.