As many of you know, Gerrit Cole just completed his freshman season at UCLA. The right-handed pitcher spent nearly the entire season throwing as the team's ace and did well, but that wasn't unexpected considering he was a first round pick who bucked the trend by attending college. Cole turned down millions of dollars to bring his 97 mph fastball to UCLA, but why exactly did he leave such an offer on the table?
Well, what at first glance might seem to be a pleasant departure from the old "star athlete leaves school, early money grab" cliché might actually be something a bit less pure— and a bit less romantic.
Yes, education is important to the Cole family, and college is a priority. But this was not just about that. It was about taking measurements and weighing variables and unemotionally watching the scales tip one way or another. Instead of a quick reach for mounds of money and a departure to the minors to learn the ways of professional baseball—which would extend beyond honing his pitches to developing professional poise, understanding game situations and dealing with success and failure—Cole made another choice. It was about far more than pitches—it was about life.
"We did a ton of thinking—just an absurd amount of thinking about this," says Cole. "My dad has a Ph.D., and he’s a real visual kind of guy, so he made charts, and we went over financial figures, comparing people who are drafted in the first round and have somewhat of a baseball career with others who graduated college and the average gross of what they make in baseball and afterward."
And money wasn’t the only variable charted: The Coles evaluated whether three years in the minors would necessarily yield a shorter path to the majors than three years of college. And if an 18-year-old is truly ready for the real world of professional baseball.
You think a family like the Coles put the same kind of time and effort into deciding which school would be best for Gerrit too? You bet they did. Comfortable with their choice of UCLA and aware of the benefits of college, the Coles bought an insurance plan for Gerrit and he was ready to become a Bruin.
All the bases were covered. With a new policy in his back pocket and the old thunder still in his right arm, it was a done deal. Gerrit Cole was headed to UCLA.
But what about that offer from the Yankees? "There never was one," says dad Mark, who was well aware of the reasonable range of the impending windfall. "It was a decision based on what was the best route for Gerrit at the time."
So no, "Let’s hear the number just for fun"? Weren’t the Coles even curious?
"No. We didn’t need to hear an offer," insists the elder Cole. "I made it very clear to the Yankees that if we went down that road and talked about money or other aspects of a contract, it would just be giving them the wrong impression." The kid was going to school no matter what.
Gerrit's dad isn't the only smart one in the family and this wasn't just his decision. Gerrit was involved in every step and he was aware of what was going on. So far, the plan appears to be going ahead just as they hoped.
Cole’s freshman year was an unquestionable success. He finished the regular season with an ERA of 3.49, a minuscule opponent batting average of .191 and 104 strikeouts in 85 innings. He was named to the All Pac-10 team and was one of the first 17 players across the country invited to try out for the U.S. National Team—which he made.
Cole didn't just make the U.S. National Team, he's thrived there. Cole is 3-0 with Team USA and has 32 strikeouts in 19.1 innings, all while allowing just five total hits and not a single run. Not too shabby. We're a year past Cole's decision to attend UCLA and luckily, we have two more years of watching him in blue and gold. He surely won;t disappoint.