Posting a High GPA and Low ERA, Major League pitcher earns OHIO degree during the pandemic
Tim Mayza was drafted by a Major League Baseball team before completing his undergraduate degree, as many promising young athletes are.
“Of course, it is an amazing opportunity, so you take it, and school falls off the radar at that point,” Mayza said. “In the back of your mind though, you know that [your career as an athlete] could end at any time.”
Mayza joined the Toronto Blue Jays in 2013 and worked his way up through the organization. His work ethic and goal-oriented mindset landed him in the majors in 2017. During his second year in the majors, he finished the classes he needed to earn his bachelor’s degree in sport business at Millersville University of Pennsylvania, where he played ball years before. That set him on a new trajectory.
“My post-playing career will be much longer than my playing days will be,” Mayza said. “So even though I reached that goal of finishing school, I wanted to keep up the momentum I had from being in the student mindset.”
In 2019, Ohio University’s Professional Master of Sports Administration (PMSA) in the College of Business came onto Mayza’s radar after a Google search. Impressed by the No.1 ranking by SportBusiness, he followed up with the program to see if it was a good fit.
“I knew I wanted to find an online program that would allow me to work on my degree while doing everything I needed to do for my job,” Mayza said. “It seemed like the curriculum would cover really everything I wanted to dive deeper into.”
After only a few months as a Bobcat, Mayza held the title for the fourth-most relief appearances in the American League as he headed into a game against the New York Yankees. One pitch at the top of the 10th inning changed the course of Mayza’s life.
“When a pitcher blows an elbow, it is something you know immediately when you see it,” said Keegan Matheson, veteran Toronto Blue Jays reporter for MLB.com. “He went down to his knee and his teammates rallied around him. You could see it in all of their faces that it was bad.”
For many pitchers, a UCL tear can be a career-ending injury. The recovery process begins with Tommy John surgery, where the torn ligament is replaced with a healthy tendon graft. Mayza also added a forearm tendon tear to the mix. After multiple surgeries, recovery can take up to two years, with many professional athletes never fully returning to their previous abilities. After 18 months of rehabilitation, most of which was during the pandemic, he is not only back in the league, but back into the position he left in the majors.
“I saw a lot of discipline, maturity and patience in Tim not to rush the healing process,” Matheson said. “He stayed level-headed during a long recovery and worked hard to force his way back onto the roster. I am thrilled to see him back on the mound. He is one of the good ones.”
As if the recovery and return to major league play wasn’t enough, Mayza spent his time off the field focusing on the PMSA program at OHIO. Having more time and capacity to devote to his studies, he brought the same work ethic and coachability to the classroom as he does the field.
“Tim brought a different and essential perspective to his cohort,” said Kelley Walton, director of the PMSA Program. “Many of our students are advanced in their careers in the sports industry, but it is unique to have someone who can speak from the professional athlete perspective. Tim didn’t come in with the same experiences as his peers, but he worked that much harder to complete phenomenal work.”
OHIO’s PMSA program establishes cohorts of 25-30 students of various ages, backgrounds and prior experience, who complete the entirety of their online coursework and semi-regular in-person workshops and conferences alongside one another. These groups remain in touch through Microsoft Teams, GroupMe, and weekly calls, keeping each other motivated and building a collaborative environment.
“It’s deeper than the coursework – the relationships and being able to lean on professors and peers is really unique,” Mayza said. “In class you hear all the time about the ‘Bobcat Network,’ then you get to a conference and realize there are so many people you can connect to in the industry that will let you pick their brains and help you set yourself up for success.”
The Sports Administration Bobcat Network comprises 1,800 alumni, 85 percent of whom are employed in key positions within intercollegiate athletics, professional sports, public assembly facilities, sports tours, motor sports, corporate sports organizations, sports media, and the entertainment industry. That range of connections will make Mayza’s post-baseball career transition, whenever it comes, that much easier.
“My connections at OHIO and the work I did for class helped keep me motivated through my recovery,” Mayza said. “It gave me perspective of, ‘Okay, I need these skills for what comes next.’ I don’t know when [my baseball career] will end, but I have to be ready for it and stay open to what is next.”
During much of the pandemic and shortened 2020 MLB season, Mayza was at home recovering in Pennsylvania. This spring, however, his last semester of courses coincided with his return to the majors. Rather than feeling overwhelmed by tackling both at once, he found that it helped him maintain the reality-check mindset.
“I have been able to escape the game a bit,” Mayza said. “Instead of waking up and playing video games until practice, or sleeping on the plane, I have my laptop out doing homework. It has been rewarding to work toward a goal and feel a sense of accomplishment that is outside of my day job.”
This week Mayza is preparing for the next series and wrapping up final projects. As for what’s next, he wants to remain open to what opportunities might come about down the road.
“It’s hard to say where I will go [after baseball], but I feel like I have a lot of options now with this degree to do a lot of different things in the professional sports industry,” Mayza said. “I don’t like wasting time. I want to stay busy and always be working toward a goal.”
Mayza will celebrate commencement remotely on Friday before gearing up for his game against the Atlanta Braves on Saturday.