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Life in the big leagues and the online classroom

Former Major League Baseball player Daniel Robertson swings the bat in a game for the Texas Rangers in 2014. Robertson is a 2020 Oregon State Ecampus graduate

Daniel Robertson spent parts of four seasons in Major League Baseball, and he enrolled with Oregon State Ecampus during his professional peak in order to complete his liberal studies degree online. (Photo by Kelly Gavin)

With a major dream fulfilled, a passion for learning sparked Daniel Robertson’s journey toward a liberal studies degree

By Tyler Hansen

The phone rang in Daniel Robertson’s hotel room on the night of April 22, 2014. He was in Las Vegas, and he felt — no, he knew — he was going nowhere in his seventh season of professional baseball as a member of the San Diego Padres organization.

Robertson was good at baseball. He was good when he played in 2008 for an Oregon State University team that was fresh off back-to-back national championships, and he was an all-star in the minor leagues.

But as he answered that phone call in 2014, he felt no closer to achieving his lifelong goal of playing Major League Baseball. That’s why, a few weeks earlier, he had asked the Padres’ director of player development, Randy Smith, to trade or release him.

When Robertson picked up the phone, it was Smith on the line.

“I have good news and I have bad news,” Smith said.

Robertson didn’t hesitate: “Give me the bad news first.”

“We traded you to the Texas Rangers and their minor-league team in Round Rock,” Smith said.

“If that’s the bad news, what’s the good news?” Robertson asked, puzzled. His trade request had been granted. He was being given a fresh start in pro ball. What’s better than that?

“Well, the good news is they’re sending you straight to the majors,” Smith said.

Pure joy. Disbelief. Validation. Robertson felt a little bit of everything as he jumped out of his hotel bed. Then he packed his bags. At 5 a.m. the next day, he was on a flight to the big leagues.

“You work so hard and go through so much and never think the dream’s gonna happen,” he says now. “I called my girlfriend, who is my now wife. I was almost in tears. I called my dad. You share those moments with the people who know how hard you worked.”

It was the start of a four-year run in which he played the game at the highest level, an opportunity so rare that roughly 90% of pro baseball players never experience it.

And while he lived out one dream, Robertson began pursuing another. To make it happen, he enrolled online with Oregon State Ecampus in pursuit of his liberal studies bachelor’s degree. For the first time, he discovered his identity outside of baseball.

‘He’s a little guy that nobody gave a chance’

It’s impossible to overstate how unlikely Daniel Robertson’s rise to baseball prominence was. After starring for three years at Concordia University, a small private school in southern California, he wanted to play with and against the best teams in the nation. That led to a conversation with Oregon State head coach Pat Casey, who already had 11 outfielders on a team that had just won its second straight College World Series.

Daniel Robertson stands outside Goss Stadium in Corvallis, Oregon

Robertson played for the Oregon State baseball team in 2008. He earned Pac-10 all-conference honors as an outfielder.

“I said, ‘Danny, I don’t have a scholarship for you,’ ” Casey recalled in a 2008 interview. “He said, ‘I don’t care. I want to try it.’ He brings a lot of that don’t-ever-quit, find-a-way-to-do-it attitude. He plays hard. He’s a little guy. He’s a little guy that nobody gave a chance.”

Casey, however, gave him a chance, and Robertson responded by earning a starting job in the outfield for the Beavers. A few months later, he was drafted in the 33rd round of the MLB draft as the 1,005th player selected.

Thus began a 12-season journey of swimming perpetually upstream in professional baseball, and as it started, his college education came to an abrupt halt.

That is common among pro ballplayers, the majority of whom sign contracts right out of high school or after their junior seasons in college. The daily demands — training, playing, traveling, resting — are such that many players think there is simply no time to continue their studies.

Robertson was of that mindset for several years. But just as his playing career reached its apex in the majors, he realized how much Oregon State’s academic expertise could benefit his approach on the baseball diamond.

A return to Oregon State from a distance

In 2015, Robertson was playing for the Los Angeles Angels and making an impact all over the field. Sacrificing his body to make highlight reel catches in center field. Hitting for power and showing off his trademark hustle. Throwing runners out at home plate.

That same year, he reinvented himself as a 30-year-old college student and began taking classes exclusively online through Oregon State Ecampus. He picked up where he left off seven years earlier in OSU’s liberal studies bachelor’s degree program.

This time, though, he had a newfound desire to learn.

Daniel Robertson slides into third base during a game with the Texas Rangers in 2014. He earned his liberal studies degree online with Oregon State.

While establishing himself in the major leagues, Robertson began taking classes online with Ecampus. (Photo by Kelly Gavin)

“Once I started taking Ecampus classes on a serious level in 2015, I started seeing the end of the tunnel,” he says. “I took my first online class and got an A in it. I didn’t get very many A’s when I was in college on campus. But now I had a taste for it. I became addicted to it.

“Ecampus taught me how to be more accountable to myself. I took it upon myself to find what I’m capable of and see who I am other than being a professional baseball player.”

In many ways, Robertson was like any other working adult who pursues an Oregon State degree online for professional advancement and personal enrichment. The big difference was that he performed his job duties in front of thousands of spectators and a live TV audience before switching into student mode.

“I’d come home after spring training games and do three or four hours of homework. It was a relief. Baseball is a beautiful game, but the mental stress that comes with playing against the best in the world every day is rough,” he says. “Sometimes I just wanted to come home and read about Plato for my philosophy classes.”

Finding success beyond the bat

Oregon State’s College of Liberal Arts doesn’t list “helps professional athletes improve their mental approach” among its course learning outcomes, but Robertson will tell you that they can.

He raves about the classes elevating his maturity and “fine-tuning” his growth mindset.

“It gave me a sense of pride that I’m working on other areas of my life while I’m trying to be really good at baseball,” he says. “I felt like I was in full-fledged learning mode every game. Whatever I was struggling with, I could overcome it.

Daniel Robertson sits at a desk and types on a laptop with books on his left. He earned his liberal studies degree online with Oregon State.

With his playing days behind him, Robertson began his coaching career in earnest in 2021. He was named manager of the Maverick Independent League’s Campesinos de Salem-Keizer in Oregon. They won the league championship in Robertson’s debut season.

“School gave me a different sense of fulfillment. … It made me feel like I can do so much more in this world if I take the time to learn.”

Possessing that contentment and confidence helped Robertson make big life transitions once his playing days ended after the 2019 season. He took on a larger course load with Ecampus and returned to the Oregon State baseball team as a coach — a profession that is his new passion.

And when he completed his Oregon State liberal studies degree online, he celebrated his graduation pandemic-style at home with his wife, Simone Del Rosario.

There was no life-changing phone call. No jumping around in a hotel room. No plane to take to his next career destination. The work was complete, and Robertson knew he was just beginning to reap a lifetime of rewards.

“I never thought I could be a college graduate until Oregon State and Ecampus provided me with the opportunity,” he says. “Going back to school made me see the world in a different light. It was an amazing experience.”

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