21 years after leaving Georgia Tech for pro baseball, Mark Teixeira is graduating

Mark Teixeira said he always felt weird telling people that he was an alumnus of Georgia Tech. That would be because, while Teixeira was a former student and baseball star at Tech, as well as a significant donor, he actually wasn’t a graduate.

When Teixeira left Tech in 2001 after three years to play baseball professionally – a pursuit that earned him an estimated $218 million and the recognition as one of the premier players of his generation – he had yet to earn his diploma, 41 credit hours shy of graduating.

Twenty-one years later, Teixeira finally can make the claim without it disturbing his conscience. At Saturday’s commencement exercises, the semester’s 4,030 graduates will include a three-time All-Star, five-time Gold Glove winner and World Series champion. With little incentive beyond his own sense of satisfaction and a desire to serve as an example to his three children, Teixeira will be a part of Tech’s class of 2022, having completed those remaining 41 hours for his business-administration degree over the past three semesters.

“To be able to say I’m a Georgia Tech graduate now after 25 years, it’s something I really can’t put into words,” Teixeira said Wednesday in a videoconference interview.

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Teixeira’s degree completion was not a rubber-stamp exercise. He took classes in computer science, finance and business operations, among others.

“I hadn’t done advanced mathematics in 20 years,” Teixeira said. “There was a lot of panic. I had tutors. So I would sign up online for tutors, and my tutor would pop up and they’d be like, ‘Are you Mark Teixeira? What are you doing?’”

His response was not a glib explanation of someone who had been an ESPN analyst after retiring from baseball in 2016: “I need help. I need help because I have no idea what these equations mean, and I’m trying to figure that out.”

Further, he is a principal in a real-estate development company (Urban Creek Partners) that sold 70 acres on Atlanta’s Westside for $127 million to Microsoft and is married with three children. He said schoolwork took up about 30 hours a week.

“When people would ask me, ‘What are you doing right now?’, (the answer would be) ‘I’m a full-time student,’” he said. “And that’s on top of three kids and real estate investment and managing my portfolio, being on two non-profit boards and all the other things that I’m doing and also trying to have some fun.”

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Teixeira said that returning to finish his degree was “something that was always in the back of my mind.” Further, he said, “I wanted my kids to know that I finished.” For Teixeira, Tech was far more than a passageway to professional baseball. He met his wife, Leigh, (a graduate) there, and he continues to be close with Yellow Jackets coach Danny Hall and a supporter of the team. Because of his financial gifts and fundraising efforts, the team’s clubhouse bears his name, as does a premium seating area of the newly renovated stadium (the Mark Teixeira Skyline Terrace).

Tech is “really a huge part of who I am,” he said.

Still, with his family living in Austin, Texas, and Tech having a requirement that the final 36 degrees must be earned on campus, it seemed an impossibility. However, COVID-19 changed the possibilities. The requirement was temporarily lifted.

“I said, ‘Mark, if you don’t do it now, you’re never going to do it. Let’s go,’” he said. “And I kind of never looked back after that.”

That isn’t entirely the case. On the counsel of an academic adviser, he planned to have a concentration in finance and loaded up on finance classes in his first semester back, in the spring of 2021. But, upon reviewing the syllabus, he realized the classes were over his head, calling upon students to write computer programs to pick stocks, for instance.

“I told my wife, I’m like, ‘Honey, I’m going to fail. There’s no way I’m going to be able to take these finance classes,’” he said. “So I almost quit. I really did.”

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Perhaps he could just rest on a 14-year Major League career with the Rangers, Braves, Angels and Yankees in which, among other things, he became just the fifth switch hitter to reach 400 home runs for his career.

But his new adviser told him that having a finance concentration was the wrong plan for him, and he switched to a general-management concentration. (”It’s kind of an oxymoron,” he said.) As the graduation requirement to be on campus for the final 36 credits was reinstated, Teixeira worked out a plan with the business school in which he could fly in from Austin every few weeks for exams, group presentations or projects that required his attendance and take part remotely the rest of the time. (Being a major donor probably didn’t hurt.)

“I’ve got to give my wife a lot of credit for being patient with me,” Teixeira said.

Teixeira settled into a routine, despite probably being twice as old as some of his classmates, being the only one taking notes by hand as opposed to using a laptop computer and being a recognizable multi-millionaire. He laughed recalling the puzzled looks he got from fellow students.

“So you have to tell them, ‘OK, this is who I am, this is what I’ve done,’ and then it all makes sense,” he said.

He shared some of his classes with current Tech baseball players and sat next to catcher Kevin Parada, a leading candidate for the national player-of-the-year award that Teixeira won in 2000, in a marketing class this semester.

Teixeira will graduate with high honors, meaning he finished with a GPA between 3.35 and 3.55.

“If you ask me what was harder, major leagues or Georgia Tech, I’d have to think about it for a while,” he said.

Having 30 hours a week freed, he has some time to ponder it as he gazes upon his diploma.

“That’ll be something that I’m going to be super proud of, and I’ll put it up with my Gold Glove Award and Silver Slugger and World Series trophy,” he said.