Marlins reliever Brian Sanches is fascinated by weather, admits he spends hours upon hours sitting in front of his television watching The Weather Channel, and thinks Jim Cantore -- standing out in the middle of hurricanes in his rain slicker -- is simply the greatest. Sanches is also taking an online college course in meteorology -- not because he has any intention of becoming a weatherman when his baseball days are done, but because it takes him one step closer to his college degree. If all goes according to schedule, Sanches will get his diploma from Lamar University in December. And that will make him part of a select fraternity: Major League players with college degrees.
I'm not sure what the latest statistics show. But a couple of years ago, I recall hearing that only about a dozen big leaguers had college degrees. It doesn't take a Rhodes Scholar to understand why. A large number of players are either scooped out of Latin American countries at a young age (they can sign as early as age 16), or drafted out of U.S. high schools. Major League clubhouses, in other words, are not exactly beehives for intellectual discourse.
Sanches is working toward his degree for a number of reasons. He wants to have something to fall back on once his playing days are finished. It's his mother's wish. And he wants to serve as an example to his children once they're older and contemplating their futures. So Sanches, diligent student that he is, takes his textbooks with him on Marlins road trips.
I polled a few of the Marlins, asking them to identify their brainiest teammates. Three were consensus no-brainers:
Burke Badenhop -- The reliever holds a degree in economics from Bowling Green State University and had a job on Wall Street lined up before being taken in the draft. When he's not working in long relief, Badenhop could probably hold his own with John Keynes in a discussion on macroeconomic theory. If you're looking for someone to do your taxes, there would be far worse choices.
John Baker -- The catcher attended academically challenging Cal-Berkeley (then again, so did Joe Rose) and is just shy of a degree, which he intends to complete in due course. Probably the most articulate of all Marlins, which is why he is is in constant demand by the media for interviews. An avid reader who digs the classics, now kicking himself -- seriously -- that he didn't major in English literature. But, hey, we all make mistakes.
Andrew Miller -- Supposedly kicked some serious butt on the SAT and breezed into the University of North Carolina, married a Duke girl, and was chosen to be the Marlins' union player rep because of his brains. One of the knocks on Miller as a pitcher is that he thinks too much -- overanalyzes. Chances are that, one day, he'll figure it out.
After those three, it gets murkier. Some of the younger players in camp gave a nod to Jay Buente, a pitcher on the Marlins' 40-man roster. ("Smartest ballplayer I've ever met in my life," said Rick VandenHurk). Buente is your basic computer geek. He has a degree in computer technology from Purdue, and if you've got laptop problems, he's your guy. Sanches said he enlisted Buente to read over one of his college papers last season, just to make sure it was good to go. And Sanches ain't no dummy.
VandenHurk received a few votes, primarily for one reason. He speaks four languages: English, Dutch, German and Spanish. "Anybody that speaks that many languages has to be smart," said pitcher Sean West. West also said he thought Sanches belonged in the group, but only because he always seemed to be working on crossword puzzles -- that is, when he wasn't looking up at the clouds.