'Game Plan' prepares players for next career

Program accessible to big leaguers, Minor Leaguers, club personnel

Paul Hartzell graduated from Lehigh University in 1975 with a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering, and the Angels drafted him that year and put him on the big league roster the next spring. He pitched six years in the American League, saving his friend Nolan Ryan's 100th win along the way.

"Once you get into any professional sport, when you're in it, you really have to believe in your heart that it's never going to end," Hartzell said recently. "Intellectually, everybody knows it has to end someday. My teammate was Nolan Ryan, he played 27 years. Nobody ever played more. But it had to end even for one of the greatest players. It must end."

That constant reality is on display right now, the understanding that some players you see on Major League Baseball rosters in today's games will never see The Show once more. With that fact of life in mind, MLB and Game Theory Group International on Thursday announced a partnership to provide post-playing career transition services and resources to Major League and Minor League players via the Game Plan platform.

MLB's partnership with Game Plan will include access to Game Plan's platform, which contains a career and mentor marketplace as well as assessment tools and on-demand learning modules that focus on life after sport and career development. In addition to players, the customized Game Plan platform will be accessible to Major League club personnel and other groups throughout MLB.

This innovative partnership is designed to support the objectives of MLB's front office and Field Staff Diversity Pipeline Program by providing dedicated career development resources to prepare players of all backgrounds for potential roles in the front office or on-field staffs in the game after their playing careers end.

"I played with and against a lot of fellas who I think would be just thrilled to have the opportunity to be able to use the tools that Game Plan offers, along with the educational platform from Northeastern that's going to be available," Hartzell said. "Let's say it's the person in the Majors between 20-25 on the roster, and that person maybe dropped out of college after their junior year. They'll be able to completely immerse themselves into gaining that diploma during the offseason.

"All this learning is tablet-based, in manageable bites. It's designed for the student-athlete, because whether you're in college or you're a pro, this is an eight- to 10-hour-a-day job when you're immersed in it. We've created this over the last seven or eight years that it really fits into their lifestyle of having downtime, but tremendous emphasis on their sport. It will be delivered in both Spanish and English. We will engage as quickly as possible all types of players at all stages, whether junior college graduates, high school grads, whatever the case may be. It fits."

Hartzell fortunately had a STEM and business background to fall back on, knowing he wouldn't pitch forever. In 1979, he was one of four players traded by the Angels to Minnesota for future Hall of Famer Rod Carew. His usage declined, and after a brief stay with Baltimore in '80, he dropped out of the game to work on Wall Street.

The fact that Hartzell came back to pitch for Milwaukee in 1984 was notable for two reasons. One, he actually appeared at every level of pro ball that season, Class A to the Majors. Two, until 2012, he held the MLB record for the longest period of time between pitching appearances..

"When I went back to play, I went back with a completely different perspective -- around all of the people I was playing with, and how many of them were not going to get an opportunity to play MLB," Hartzell said. "The odds are against you. Even if you have gotten to the professional level, the odds of then getting to the Majors are pretty daunting."

Hartzell joined forces on this platform eight years ago with fellow Lehigh grad Vin McCaffrey, founder and CEO of Game Plan. Hartzell had been on the board of directors for Major League Alumni Marketing, having built software-based companies. The development of Game Plan has helped many young athletes so far, and it fits with MLB's overall goal of career transition help.

"MLB's passion and focus to help prepare their players for 'life after sport' is outstanding," McCaffrey said of the new partnership. "We are thrilled to partner with them as they invest into players' comprehensive development on and off the field. It's a validation of Game Plan's mission of guiding 100 percent of athletes through 100 percent of their journey."

Paul Mifsud, MLB's vice president and deputy general counsel of labor relations and player programs, added: "Even the most successful playing careers end. Through our partnership with Game Plan, we hope to provide players with additional career development support as they prepare to embark on the next phase of their professional journeys."

This is needed at the entry level in Rookie ball and on MLB rosters today. Some might become coaches. Some might have made enough, through salary and pension to settle down. Some might have gone on to other careers, had they been able to focus more on education back then. Hartzell has seen all kinds, from the Ryans to the never-made-its.

"There's a lot of really smart guys who, they get out of high school, they have a great talent, they become pro players," Hartzell said. "It's not that they couldn't be good students. They spent a lot of time doing other things. When their career ends, that transition is really challenging. There's a huge part of Game Plan."

Visit WeAreGamePlan.com for more information.

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com and a baseball writer since 1990. Follow him on Twitter @Marathoner and read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com/blogs hub. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.