LEX18 — The first time Eddie Brooks enrolled at the University of Kentucky, it was to play baseball.
"It is what it is. I had a 2.1 (grade point average)," Brooks told BBN Tonight's Maggie Davis. "I was not very serious about school. I was 100 percent baseball player first."
That was in the 1990's, and at the time, that was just fine with Brooks.
"Eddie was a special player and a lot of people know that. He was a top five round draft pick, goes to professional baseball, and sometimes that happens in our sport. Life takes over," current UK baseball coach Nick Mingione said. "You spend all this time grinding in the minor leagues, and sometimes the education gets put aside because life happens."
But sometimes, life changes.
In 2017, Brooks was named the head coach for the Frederick Douglass High School baseball team. Two years later, he was back in the classroom himself. As of May 15, 2021, Brooks found himself inside Rupp Arena in downtown Lexington, where he walked across the stage to earn his degree 30 years after first stepping foot on campus.
"It was a combination of things," Brooks said of his decision to return to school at this point in his life. "My father always preached you're only as good as your word. I got remarried to my wife, Penny, and before we got married, I promised her I'd start school back. Several years into our marriage, I hadn't started yet. She called me on my bluff."
The second part of his decision came while Brooks was volunteering at a UK baseball camp. Coach Mingione was telling the campers about another former Wildcat, John Shelby, who returned to school 10 years after the fact to finish his degree. Later that afternoon, Mingione learned Brooks hadn't graduated, either.
"He looked at me at me and said, 'you didn't finish?' and I said, 'no sir. I signed after my junior year,'" Brooks said of his conversation with Mingione that day. "He smiled, just his joyful self. He said, 'we'll take care of it.' I said, 'excuse me?' He said, 'we'll pay for it.'"
"I was shocked."
That's when the Cawood Ledford post-eligibility scholarship kicked in for Brooks. UK Athletics covers the cost of tuition and books for scholarship student athletes who return to school to finish their degrees. Since its inception in 1989, more than 160 former Wildcats have returned to graduate through the program. The latest is Eddie Brooks.
Now, Brooks uses his story to inspire his current team - the Frederick Douglass High School baseball program - to "always have a plan B." He's also using it with his former teammates.
"One of my other former players I played with here was Paul Morse. I contacted him and I've now got him back enrolled here to finish his," Brooks said. "Fellas, come back. If I can do it, you all can do it. They knew what I was when I was here. I was 100 percent athlete first. I didn’t take school seriously. The second go around, I took it real serious."
That's an understatement. After earning a 2.1 grade point average the first time around, Brooks finished his collegiate career with a 3.8 GPA and a Bachelor of Liberal Studies with an emphasis in social science.
"What it boils down to is I'm going to walk across the stage and gradute with my degree 30 years after the day I stepped foot on this campus," Brooks said. "It's crazy, now thinking about it, but I've done it."
"I'll be the second person in my family to graduate. The greatest thing is I'll have my two daughters sitting there, with my wife," Brooks said as he wiped away tears. "I've got two daughters - one of them just got married, she's 21. My youngest one is 19. The fact that they'll get to see their dad walk across, they can do what they want to, as well."
For more on the Wildcats, watch BBN Tonight weeknights at 7:30 on the official station of UK Athletics, LEX18 News, or anytime on BBNTonight.com