CHICAGO -- During a five-year baseball career that involved stops with the White Sox and Red Sox, Brian Anderson vowed that he would eventually get his degree, even putting it in writing for his mother. Now the 39-year-old is fulfilling that promise while also pursuing a dream of coaching as the undergraduate assistant and first-base coach for the University of Arizona baseball program this season.
“It really has been a blessing,” Anderson told MLB.com during a recent phone interview. “I couldn’t imagine it being a better setup than it is right now.”
Anderson went from Arizona to the White Sox as Chicago's top pick in the 2003 Draft. Though he returned to Tucson at times over the years to get some classes in, he still needs about one full year of credits to get his degree in human and social behavior.
It was a trip to watch the Wildcats in the 2021 College World Series last June that spurred his career change from medical sales back to baseball, as he was encouraged to finish his degree by Arizona athletic director Dave Heeke and assistant athletic director Chrissy Alexander. Head baseball coach Jay Johnson left Arizona later that month to take over LSU's program, and Chip Hale was brought in as the head coach at the beginning of July, not leaving much time for Anderson to get in contact about coaching opportunities.
“He couldn’t have had more than a couple of hours under his belt being the head coach before I reached out, or minutes,” said Anderson with a laugh. “I have a great relationship with Chip. I texted him and said, 'I would love to be a part of this thing.' I was already planning on getting involved and finishing school. He asked if I had graduated, and he said, 'Come coach the outfielders and coach first base.' I said, 'Done.' It was that simple. It was so seamless that it seemed almost not real.”
“I’m excited to see how he reacts when we start playing real games and guys start to struggle and how much he can help them with that,” Hale told MLB.com in a phone interview. “We have such experience in that, he and I, so we can be able to get past those moments.”
Hale, 57, played 333 games over seven seasons with the Twins and Dodgers, ending his career in 1998. He learned about Anderson in 2003, when Hale was working with the D-backs, who were interested in selecting Anderson at No. 19 overall in that year's Draft.
That knowledge, and a continued friendship, made it easy for Hale to add Anderson to his staff. The Wildcat players know of the catch Anderson made to secure the White Sox 2008 American League Central play-in win over the Twins, as well as his two-homer game off Félix Hernández. But they also know about his big league struggles, the sort of struggles he can use to assist young players.
“You better have the ability to laugh at yourself, and he’s good about it,” said Hale, who managed the D-backs for two seasons (2015-16) and was the Nationals’ bench coach during their World Series championship season. “I always say this: Coaches for the most part and managers in the big leagues, we can remember all the times things didn’t go right way more than we did when things went right.”
Full-time coaching could be in Anderson's future, but right now he’s focusing on work at his alma mater -- a focus that includes his studies along with his coaching.
“He’s done really well in school. He’s really proud of it,” Hale said. “I get a grade check every week on all of our players, and he’s like, ‘How come I’m not on the grade check? I can help our team GPA. I’m doing so well.’ He’s taking a lot of pride in it. He works hard. Brian has been working his tail off every day.”
“Baseball is about peaks and valleys,” Anderson said. “The key is to make sure those valleys and those dips are really low, and those peaks are high. So when you dip you want to make sure the dips are short and not very long-lived. The peaks? You want to ride that as long as you can. Chip was awesome for giving me this opportunity. I’m really grateful he put his trust in me. The players love it, I love it. It seems to be going great.”