By Teachers, For Teachers
GREENSBURG, Ind. (AP) — The millionaire walks down a corridor to a classroom, not across a baseball field from the bullpen. This pitcher's task is to control high school students, not his 95 mph fastball. He is substituting not for a tiring starter, but for the regular teacher.
Alex Meyer gets a lot more out of it than the $63 a day paid by Greensburg schools.
"Being able to be a substitute teacher puts me in a real-life atmosphere and lets me know if this is something I really want to do or not," he told The Indianapolis Star (http://indy.st/1dBbm2m). "So far, it is."
This is the third off-season as a sub for the 6-9 Meyer, 23, a former Indiana Mr. Baseball who was selected 23rd by the Washington Nationals in the first round of the 2011 draft. He played three college seasons at Kentucky before signing a reported $2 million contract.
A year ago, he was traded to the Minnesota Twins and ranked their fourth-best prospect by Baseball America before throwing a pitch in the organization. He had a 3.21 earned run average in 70 innings for Double-A New Britain then was rated the No. 4 prospect in the postseason Arizona Fall League, which is for the best minor leaguers in baseball after compiling a 3.12 ERA with 28 strikeouts in 26 innings.
Teachers at Greensburg High School gush about Meyer. He is a familiar figure in this town (pop. 11,492), which is located 55 miles southeast of Indianapolis.
This always will be home.
"I like Greensburg. I like it a lot," Meyer said. "I have a big family that's all from here."
His father, David, owns a Ford dealership near the I-74 exit. His mother, Sandy, is a secretary in the school superintendent's office. It was Meyer's mother who suggested subbing after he conceded he was bored and had nothing to do.
Meyer liked it "from the very get-go," he said.
Subbing gets him out of bed and allows him to interact with teachers and coaches who have become peers and friends. Meyer has taught in elementary, middle and high school. Kindergarten was almost comical.
"He's sitting in those chairs with his knees all bunched up in his chest," said football coach Scott Moore, who was Meyer's baseball coach. "You sub in elementary, you're going to earn your money. There's a lot going on."
Perhaps Meyer's favorite week was spent in physical education at St. Mary's, the local parochial school. His least favorite: middle school.
"You have to show some authority or they will walk all over you," Meyer said.
Greensburg High School uses block scheduling, with longer class periods every other day. Here is a day in the life of a ballplayer-turned-sub:
Periods 1-2: Anatomy and physiology
On this December morning, Meyer is looking at a class roster instead of a lineup card. Bitterly cold weather delayed school by two hours, so he is arriving at Scott Mangels' science room at about 9:45.
Posters of cells and dinosaurs share wall space with those of Indiana University basketball and Duck Dynasty. A cabinet at the back of the room contains skulls, plastic anatomy models and specimens of butterflies, shells and animal fur.
Mangels, before leaving to judge a science fair, has asked Meyer to sign a scorecard found on eBay from Meyer's first game as a pro. Schoolchildren have often asked for autographs, but this request is unusual because of the item.
Students enter the classroom quietly, many wearing sweatshirts, hoodies and boots. They recite the pledge of allegiance and observe a moment of silence.
"Guys, I'm Mr. Meyer. I've probably had some of you before."
Meyer distributes study guides and instructs students to check out laptops from the next room and use them at their desks. They can access what they need to know on the website quizlet.com. Meyer's objective soon becomes clear: keep order and encourage attentiveness.
"You guys can't get on Facebook, can you? Nobody has their cell phone with them, do they?
"Keep your cell phone in your pocket or your purse.
"Remember, these are on the test."
Students look at anatomical figures on their laptops and eventually turn in their study guides. What chitchat there is remains quiet, with conversation turning to a newly released horror movie.
"Does somebody have study guide No. 8? Hey, listen. Does somebody have No. 8?"
Periods 3-4: Biology
Science is not Meyer's expertise. A teaching career would be in history or physical education. But he can follow a lesson plan, and he is a sought-after sub.
Keith Hipskind, the dean of students, is a former basketball coach who has known Meyer since age 10 or 11.
"He's conscientious, he tries, he's dedicated," Hipskind said. "He's going to try to live up to what you want him to do."
Students in this period are freshmen and sophomores, so they didn't attend high school with Meyer and don't necessarily know who he is. Hipskind said students are "oblivious" to the rest of the world.
"They have no idea what's going on around them except who they're texting or who the cute girl is who's sitting by them in math class," he said.
The sub could care less. He has a class to teach.
"No one has their cell phone out, do they?
"Everyone, pay attention. If you don't pay attention, we're going to start over."
Students take turns reading out of a textbook.
"Explain why facilitated fusion does not require energy from a cell. Does that make sense?"
Students later watch a series of short films about cells and cellular membranes.
"Let's make sure it's quiet for the last 20 minutes or so. I know you've got finals coming up."
Periods 5-6: Seminar (study hall) and lunch
This is as close to babysitting as it gets. But a teacher must be in the classroom, even if this one would be more productive doing long toss at the nearby fieldhouse.
Study hall is interrupted by lunch. As boys play Ping Pong by the cafeteria, Meyer chooses to forego eating and instead speaks to some of his former coaches. Because of the fall league, this is his first day back at school.
Seniors from Greensburg's No. 1-ranked Class 3A basketball team sit at a table farthest from the cafeteria entrance. Among them is Macy Holdsworth, who will attend IU on a baseball scholarship. He had Meyer as a sub a year ago.
"I think a lot of the students are starting to figure out what's going on and what he's doing and how much it means to the school for him to come back and be a substitute teacher during the off-season," Holdsworth said.
Means more to some than others. After all, Mr. Meyer is tall, dark and handsome. And rich.
"All the girls look at him. I don't mind looking at him," one 17-year-old senior girl said.
Another senior, Katie Bennett, 17, called Meyer a good teacher.
"He did really well with us," Bennett said. "Since he's still young, he can relate to high school."
Periods 7-8: Anatomy and physiology
As they did in first period, students borrowed laptops from another room and accessed quizlet.com. It was getting late in the day, and everyone was antsy.
"No texting. Cell phones in your pocket, on the table or on the ground."
"You said on the ground," one student protested.
"On the ground, on my desk. Take your pick."
Meyer craned his neck to look for cell phones. At 6-9, he can see more than most seated teachers. There wasn't a lot of studying, but neither was there much noise.
There was mini-drama when one offending student was caught with cell phone out and had to deliver it to Meyer. Another asked why they couldn't text.
"Because I'm the phone Nazi."
The bell rang, and school was done for the day. But Meyer would be back. Not only does he find idle time unappealing, teaching has become part of him.
He said he was influenced by his high school experience. He played for coaches "who really interacted with the players well," building relationships rather than just won-lost records. That made him consider teaching, he said, and "you can't beat" summers off.
"Hopefully, I'm able to play baseball and have a nice, long career," Meyer said. "But you never know what's going to happen with that. So you've always got to be able to have something on the ready."
He will report to the Twins' spring training camp at Fort Myers, Fla., in February and could be assigned to the Triple-A affiliate at Rochester, N.Y. (Rochester plays in Indianapolis Aug. 7-10.) If he makes the majors and the Twins improbably reach the playoffs, he could be pitching in October and subbing in November.
With fastballs or freshmen, it's all a matter of control.
"Hopefully, if I can control both of them," Meyer said, "it should be a pretty good day."
Information from: The Indianapolis Star, http://www.indystar.com