For Travis Minix, the decision to return to Ball State after a decade of professional baseball all started with a promise.
Minix had just been drafted in the 23rd round by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 1999, and his lifelong aspiration of playing pro ball was about to be achieved.
Family and friends spent the day at the Minix household celebrating his accomplishment, offering congratulations and wishing the 21-year-old prospect “the best of luck” in the next chapter of his life.
Once the mob of enthused supporters had dispersed, Minix found himself sitting on the living room couches talking with his parents. The evening’s conversation was centered on what would happen next, what everyone could expect and what all there was to look forward to for the newest member of the Devil Rays’ system.
There was not much to argue about that night for the Minix family, but one topic was the focus of debate.
“I’m never going back to school,” Minix stated.
“You’re going back to school,” his mother replied in that stern but loving way only mothers have mastered.
“No,” Minix said. “I’m not going back to school.”
“You have to go back to school,” his mother pleaded. “Promise me you’ll go back to school.”
In the end, as is usually the case, mother won. Minix made a promise to her that after his baseball career was completed, he would file for reinstatement and finish earning his degree.
The passion Minix holds for the game of baseball started at a very young age. He began playing the sport when he was four years old, and would often pretend he was Pete Rose flying around the bases of his backyard stadium. While watching a Cubs game with his family several years later, a seven-year-old Minix turned to his dad and told him one day he would be on television playing professional baseball.
After graduating from South Central High School in the small town of Union Mills, Ind., Minix believed he would be enrolling at Purdue to play collegiate baseball. His plans quickly changed, however, when the head baseball coach of the Boilermakers at the time was let go from the program leaving Minix to reassess his options.
It would not take long for him to choose his next school.
Rich Maloney, who was about to begin his first season as the head baseball coach at Ball State, had gotten a tip from Minix’s high school trainer that there was a kid on her team he needed to come see.
Maloney liked what he saw from Minix immediately.
“I loved the way Travis competed when I went to see him play,” Maloney said. “I saw a player determined to be his best. Travis had a moxy about him different than most players.”
Upon first meeting Maloney, Minix knew Ball State was “hands-down” where he wanted to be.
After redshirting his first year on campus, Minix stepped into a rotation that helped lead Ball State to the three winningest seasons in school history: 42 in 1999, 40 in 1997 and 39 in 1998.
The success Ball State baseball was experiencing under Maloney resulted in Major League Baseball scouts attending the team’s games, and after Minix’s junior season, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays selected the 6-1 right hander.
“The scout said the Rays liked the way I pitched,” Minix said. “They liked my aggressiveness and that I could throw strikes with three pitches.”
With the blessings of his parents and college coach, Minix left school to fulfill his dream of playing professional baseball.
He began the first year of his minor league career playing with the Hudson Valley Renegades in the New York-Penn League and came out of the bullpen and tallied a 1.44 earned run average.
The next three seasons saw Minix climb his way through the Rays system, pitching at Low Class A in 2000, High Class A in 2001 and reaching Double A in 2002.
From 2002 to 2006 Minix bounced back and forth from Double A and Triple A before being released by the organization.
One day later Minix was signed by the Philadelphia Phillies, and in 2008, Minix barely missed breaking with the big league club from camp.
It was an experience he would never forget.
““I honestly thought I was going to make the team,” Minix said about his final days trying out for the big league team. “My agent did as well. Charlie Manuel called me into the office after the last day of the exhibition. He said they loved the way I went about my business, but they were going with left hander Clay Condrey instead.”
So Minix headed back to Triple A, where he finished the season with an impressive 2.40 ERA and also led the league in number of appearances.
He would never receive the coveted big league call-up in his 14-year stint in the minors, but Minix’s baseball career was hardly a failure.
Minix’s teams won eight championships, and he totaled 588 strikeouts in 717.2 innings, 39 wins and a career era of 3.39.
Along the way, Minix was able to experience playing and competing against established major leaguers such as Miguel Cabrera, Derek Jeter, Matt Holliday, Bernie Williams, Manny Ramirez, Bobby Abreu, Josh Hamilton, Carl Crawford, Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins. He was even roommates with Johnny Gomes and Shane Victorino.
They are memories Minix will cherish for the rest of his life.
There comes a point, however, in the careers of all athletes, when it is time to hang up the jerseys and move on to the next stage of their lives. Many of them wonder what they will do next, or are left trying to find ways to fill the time that was once taken up by countless hours of training and endless traveling.
Minix, however, still had a promise he meant to keep.
In the summer of 2013, Minix re-enrolled at Ball State to fulfill the wishes his mother had made all those years ago while they sat together in the family living room.
The now 36-year-old Minix is a Cardinal again, sitting in class, writing papers, trying to pass his writing proficiency exam and earn his bachelor’s degree in general studies with an emphasis on physical education and health science.
His decision to return to the classroom is one that not only makes his mother and father proud, but one that has also earned him the admiration of his peers.
“I think it’s wonderful,” Chris Caboj, a former teammate of Minix’s at Ball State said. “Many guys who go into the draft do not ever do that. Returning to school says twice as much about his drive to better himself.”
The return to school, however, has not been easy on Minix. He often finds himself wishing he had finished school a long time ago, as the thrill of completing an assignment is just not the same as striking out a hitter with a well located fastball. He knows, however, this is a necessary step he must take if he plans to become a pitching coach.
To further improve the chances of one day being hired, Minix has taken the position of volunteer assistant under his friend and former coach – Rich Maloney.
The relationship he had formed with Maloney was the deciding reason Ball State was where Minix chose to finish his college degree and become an assistant, and there is nothing but respect between the two men.
“He is nothing but greatness,” Minix said about his mentor. “I can talk to him about anything. He can come to me about anything. It’s not a love-hate relationship because it’s nothing but love toward each other. He’s been there for me. He’s a guy I’ll always look up to.”
Nowadays, when not in class or studying, Minix can be found on the field helping set up for practice, working with the position players and trying to absorb as much information and knowledge he can from the coaches.
He knows this is the path many coaches before him had to take, and he believes when the time is right, his experiences of playing professional baseball will come in handy.
“I pitched 14 years, no arm injuries,” Minix said. “I don’t have any scars, so I know how to take care of my arm. I think that will help a lot in the interview process.”
Until then, however, Minix will continue working toward finishing his degree, helping out the baseball team, trying to find chances to drive home to be with his girlfriend and enjoy whatever free time is left by going pike fishing or buck hunting.
He might wish he had finished school the first time around, but there are definitely those who are glad to see where he is at in his life.
“When I coached Travis he was a young man finding himself,” Maloney said. “Now he has matured into a grown man. He is self-confident and personally responsible. He is a man looking toward his future, a man driven and a man looking forward to the next chapter in his life. It is great to have him back at Ball State.”