Brantley hopes to play in the major leagues someday. But he is not letting that goal deter him from his other equally compelling ambition: to earn a law degree.
Like many of his fellow minor league baseball players, Cliff Brantley Jr. hopes to play in the major leagues someday. But he is not letting that goal deter him from his other equally compelling ambition: to earn a law degree.
Brantley, who was taken in the 19th round by the Toronto Blue Jays in 2014, began playing professionally for the team’s rookie-level minor league affiliate, the Gulf Coast League Blue Jays, following his junior season at Adelphi. But in the off-season, when he’s not playing ball, he is at Adelphi taking classes, and he expects to graduate by the end of 2016.
“If you’re blessed, you join something like the one percent of minor league players who go on to play 10 years in the big leagues,” said Brantley, whose father, Cliff Brantley Sr., played for the Philadelphia Phillies from 1991 to 1992. “There’s a lot of life left after baseball, and I want to have something to do with mine.”
A 2012 study by Fox Sports revealed that, at the time, 4.3 percent of active Major League Baseball players had college degrees. “A lot of guys really don’t care about anything but baseball,” Brantley said, pointing out that the demanding schedule of professional baseball makes it hard to focus on anything else.
During the off-season, Brantley spends nearly three hours a day working out before attending classes. Free time is even more difficult to come by during the season, when the centerfielder arrives at the stadium at 8:00 a.m. for afternoon games.
But Brantley has been challenged before.
Brantley’s road to professional baseball was a bumpy one. After a promising first season at Wagner College, in which he started as an infielder and hit a respectable .273, he encountered a sophomore slump and was banished to the bench. “I just couldn’t get in a groove,” he said. His coach even told him that he lacked the ability to pursue his goal of playing outfield.
“I was heated,” Brantley said, and he decided to transfer. He identified Adelphi as a potential landing spot, given the baseball program’s strong reputation. He visited campus and immediately felt at home. “I loved that it was small and close-knit,” he said, “and everyone seemed to know everyone else.”
In his lone season at Adelphi, the determined speedster led the Northeast-10 Conference with a .405 batting average and stole 24 bases.
He also garnered First Team All-Conference recognition and was a semifinalist for the Tino Martinez Award, given to the top player in NCAA Division II.
“I’ve never had anyone so determined to get better,” Adelphi head baseball coach Dom Scala said, citing his leadoff hitter’s extra batting practice and pitcher study habits. “He had a no-nonsense attitude. I wish I had him for more than one year.”
Brantley’s professors are equally impressed.
“Here at Adelphi we have always put the emphasis on student-athletes,” said Brantley’s academic adviser Katie Laatikainen, Ph.D., professor of political science. “I find it all the more impressive that Cliff has made a commitment to complete his undergraduate degree while committing fully to baseball. His drive and commitment to what he does on and off the field are deeply admirable.”
Even the tattoos on Brantley’s arms reflect his ambitions. On his right arm are two birds. “The owl means to chase my dream with wisdom,” he said “and the hawk means to chase it aggressively.” His left arm depicts a clock with clearly visible gears. “That one reminds me to have patience through the grind, and that no matter how hard things get, I can’t rush anything.”
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