New GCU-Brewers team is swinging for the fences
By Mike Kilen
GCU News Bureau
Two baseball guys met a teacher. You’d think they would view life from opposite ends of the field.
But the trio has become as natural as a 6-4-3 double play in matching book learning and ball in the Grand Canyon University Learning Lounge at the Milwaukee Brewers’ training complex.
Shari Stagner has been an educator for 20 years. The Brewers’ Thad McGrew and Andrew Daugherty have been kicking around at ballfields just as long.
When they all erected a new banner for the Learning Lounge grand opening in April, it was a big test of their varied skills.
“Thad had to take breaks so he wouldn’t explode, and Andrew was the logical one, the problem solver. Anyway, it was fun, and it was illustrative of how we are here to do whatever it takes to make it work,” said Stagner, GCU’s Director of K12 Outreach.
“We bounce ideas off each other very well.”
They are the faces of an unusual year-around relationship between a Major League Baseball team and a university, combining to help children and an entire neighborhood – while creating more interest in education and baseball. The effort is a finalist for the Governor’s Tourism Awards for outstanding partnership, to be awarded in July.
The ideas are starting to form.
“I would say my association with Thad and Andrew has helped me move past my fan-based perception of baseball toward understanding baseball as a business,” Stagner said.
“Part of what I would be interested in doing is really helping youth know what exists in baseball, the business side of it, the different roles to make it all happen. They can be in sports as a data analyst or study the physics side of it. There is a ton of career potential in baseball that youth know nothing about.”
The Learning Lounge, which started on the GCU campus is 2013, offers free academic assistance to K-12 students. The addition of classrooms in the Brewers’ Maryvale complex has all kinds of possibilities during summer camps, weekday and Saturday lounge hours — ideas the three often bounce around.
Baseball and science and math, for example.
“There are analytics and physics — launch angles, exit velocities, spin rates,” said Daugherty, the ballpark’s General Manager.
There is also study of statistical tendencies that have transformed baseball.
“If you are not going into the medical side of sports, the analytics will keep them there,” said McGrew, Community Affairs Director for the Maryvale site. “Guys who are math geeks, they just love that.”
Hey, what about girls?
“I would do that,” Stagner said.
“You’re not that introverted,” Daugherty said.
“Actually, I’m an introvert who covers it up.”
It’s the kind of easy back-and-forth that they hope fuels ideas for their shared goal. McGrew and Daughterty said they have learned from Stagner that education can be fun, and they see the students gravitate toward subjects that capture their imagination.
“From our side, Phoenix is our home now, so obviously education is important for all us in this room, but it’s important how a city can swing,” Daugherty said. “If we can do our little piece with GCU, that is helping this neighborhood, which is really going to help Phoenix.”
“You get the education piece improved, then the economic piece will improve, which helps beautification and then people want to live here. There are stages on how to revitalize a community, starting from the ground up with education.”
The Brewers’ hope is to see more west Phoenix kids playing ball in beautiful neighborhood parks.
“We know that education is a game-changer, but sports is also a game-changer,” Stagner said. “If you have kids with academic problems, sports provide them another way to fit in and another way to build passion. It helps their self-esteem. And when you are in organized and team sports, it teaches a host of life skills.”
The trio has worked through these ideas and issues and created a nice team.
“Being involved with an MLB club, there are always legal considerations as well, so we just work together and make sure we are on the front side of things,” Stagner said.
This is a Diamondbacks town, and there are league territorial rights, Daugherty added, “but when it comes to Maryvale I love to see neighborhood kids rock a Brewers shirt.”
“I don’t mind them being fans one month out of the year,” McGrew said.
“By the way,” Stagner asked McGrew, “when am I getting my Brewers T-shirt?”
Senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at email@example.com or at 602-639-6764.