Photo Credit: Miami Marlins
Fredi Gonzalez doesn’t have much time to binge watch House of Cards or Stranger Things on Netflix. As a “super freshman,” he is busy with class at Immaculata where he is majoring in business leadership.
At 55 years old, Fredi enjoys a very successful MLB career, first as a player (drafted by the Yankees), then as a coach and manager. Currently he is the third base coach for the Miami Marlins. During his career, Fredi served as manager of the Marlins from 2007-2010, earning the Sporting News Manager of the Year in 2008. After leaving Miami, he headed north to become the Atlanta Braves’ manager from 2011-2016 where he led the team to the playoffs in his first three seasons.
With Fredi’s many accomplishments, why would he decide to earn his undergraduate degree now?
There are many reasons, he acknowledges, including proving to his inspiring mom that he, too, can earn a college degree. Fredi explains that his mom was an educator in Cuba but had to go back to college when she moved with her family to Miami when Fredi was young. “She had to take college over again, learn the language and raise three kids,” he recalls with obvious admiration.
“And another thing, selfishly, you know I am getting to that age, in my profession, where you’re considered the ‘old-school guy,’’’ Fredi admits. “But I believe that you can teach an old dog new tricks. I might be 55 and have 35 years of baseball experience but I am willing to learn.” One thing he is interested in learning more about is reading analytics so that he can apply data to his job as a coach.
His educational journey started with an offhand comment. After realizing that he was the only person in his family who did not have a college degree, Fredi researched academic options. Living in Phoenixville, PA, during the off-season, Fredi was at his local gym, CrossFit Inspire (near Immaculata’s campus and co-owned by alumnus Dante Tuscai ’13), when he mentioned his desire to go back to college. Tuscai told Fredi about his mom who earned her undergraduate degree at Immaculata while working full-time. “I believe that knowing other people his age, who had also been out of school for decades and finished their degrees, definitely encouraged him,” Tuscai says.
Since moving to the area over four years ago, Fredi was familiar with Immaculata from taking his younger daughter to swim meets in Alumnae Hall and from his older daughter, Erica Zervanos, pursuing her graduate degree in psychology from Immaculata. After consulting with his academic advisor, Avery Turner, Fredi decided to major in business leadership online. Being able to open his computer at any time, whether he’s traveling with the Marlins on the West Coast or off the I-95 in Baltimore, is allowing him to work towards his degree with an intense personal and professional schedule.
His enthusiasm for learning is evident in his class, Managing Human Capital with Charlene Fitzwater, Ph.D. Clearly, Fredi is gaining new insight from this class. The class discussions cover topics that typically don’t come up in the dugout, such as labor laws, hourly wages and maternity leave.
“I deal with 25-30 guys, so when we’re talking about parental leave [in class], I think, ‘okay, we have parental leave but it’s three days.’” Fredi is soaking up knowledge that will broaden his perspective on topics that he may not have dealt with in his professional career– but valuable leadership lessons nonetheless.
“Frankly, Fredi’s enthusiasm with learning gives me energy to want to create a learning experience that is the best it could possibly be for him and his classmates,” states Fitzwater. “Fredi is a great example of a person for which the Business Leadership program is a fantastic fit as he can connect the course concepts with his work environment.”
Fredi admits that she has set the bar pretty high. “If you ask, what should a college professor be like, Dr. Fitzwater is what a college professor should be – she is encouraging, informative, and she told me, ‘you can do this.’” Wanting to enrich his life, expand his mind and show the baseball world that he is willing to learn new things, Fredi is embracing the campus community. Since enrolling, he has discovered several friends who are Immaculata alums and is amazed at the university’s impact on the community. He jokes with a coworker who attended Villanova, “We have more championships at Immaculata than you have at Villanova,” Fredi says, laughing. “I like to give him a little dig every once in a while,” he adds.
“One dream I have,” he shares, “I want to be able to say, ‘I need to miss a game in May because I’ll be graduating. I want to walk across the stage and get my diploma!”