CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo., Dec. 14, 2015 – Atlanta Braves pitcher and former Southeast Missouri State University baseball standout Shae Simmons has notched a victory outside the lines.
Simmons will return to Southeast this weekend, marking the completion of his undergraduate degree. Commencement exercises are set for Dec. 19 in the Show Me Center. Simmons will receive a Bachelor of Science in criminal justice with a minor in criminology.
“I’ve always wanted my degree whether I need to use it in the future for a job or not,” he said. “It is very important to my family because I will be the first of my siblings that finished college. It is also nice to know I’ll always have a degree to fall back on.”
Simmons was drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the 22nd round of the 2012 Major League Baseball (MLB) June Amateur Draft. With a bright baseball future ahead of him, Simmons left Southeast after his junior year, about 30 credit hours shy of his degree. A Scott City, Missouri, native and Scott City High School graduate, Simmons moved on to play three seasons in the Minor Leagues at Single-A Rome and Double-A Mississippi where he pitched 101 innings, carving out an impressive 1.43 ERA with 148 strikeouts.
At the same time, he set his sights on completing his last two semesters of coursework online through Southeast with the help of Sharon Burgard, director of athletics academic services.
“She worked with me whenever it was convenient for me to have an open schedule in order to do my class work,” he said. “Most of the time I would break it up and take six credit hours in the off season each year.”
Still pursuing both his degree and his baseball dream, Simmons, at the age of 23, made a giant leap on May 31, 2014, as he was promoted straight to the Atlanta Braves where he made his MLB debut. He quickly became a respected right-handed throwing rookie in the bullpen, recording a 2.91 ERA with 23 strikeouts in 21.2 innings pitched.
But coming off his first Major League season, Simmons hit a stumbling block when he experienced throwing pain last January. In February, he underwent Tommy John reconstructive right elbow surgery which sidelined him the entire 2015 season.
If there was a silver lining, though, it was that it allowed him time to complete his Southeast degree.
“I usually took classes in the off season if I wasn’t playing ball in the fall,” Simmons said. “Unfortunately, I got hurt this year before the season but it allowed me to take courses in the summer and this fall for graduation.”
Southeast baseball Coach Steve Bieser, said, “I am very proud of Shae. He now becomes one of a small percentage of MLB players who have completed their degree while they are playing in the Major Leagues. I know his parents are some of his biggest influences, and they really wanted to see him finish his degree. When Shae decided to forgo his senior year, my message to him was he needed to finish his degree. Baseball only lasts so long, but a college degree lasts a lifetime. The degree is a huge security blanket for him. Now it’s time to just go out and dominate MLB hitters for the next 10 years.”
Simmons says he hopes to return to the ballclub for the 2016 season as a viable reliever where he became known on the mound for his 95-98 mph fastball, hard slider and split-finger pitches.
Simmons credits his coaches at Southeast for his success in professional baseball.
“I think Southeast helped me tremendously because I had my ups and downs throughout my career there. You live and you learn,” he said. “Coach (Steve) Bieser helped to mold my pitching game by teaching me or opening my mind to pitching compared to just throwing the ball. He called a lot of pitches I would question back then, but now that I am where I am, I understand the reason why I needed to work on certain pitches in certain counts. Even before coach Bieser, I had another pitching coach, Rick McCarty, who helped me a lot from the start because I never really had a ‘pitching’ coach help me until college.”
In 2012, Simmons led the Ohio Valley Conference (OVC) in strikeouts with 89 on his way to being named Second Team All-OVC. In 2010, he was the Ohio Valley Conference Freshman of the Year and received Ping!Baseball Freshman All-American Third Team Honors while being named to the Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American Team, and being named Ohio Valley Conference Freshman of the Year and First Team All-OVC.
At Scott City High School, he helped lead his team to a state championship in 2008 and was an All-Scott Mississippi Conference honoree in 2008 and 2009, garnering All-District Honors and making the All-Southeast Missourian Team three times and two times being named a First-Team All-State Pick. He is the son of Billy and Susan Simmons.
In the coming months, Simmons says he plans to return to Orlando, Florida, at the start of the Braves’ season to continue the rehab process with his elbow.
“We do not have a set deadline, but I will return in the 2016 season, Lord willing, and I will also participate in spring training but more than likely will not be full tilt,” he said.
And with his college degree under his belt, he adds another accomplishment to his resume and educational security for his future.
“I have always wanted to work in the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) or be a detective,” he said. “After my (baseball) career is over, whenever that is, I might end up going back to school in order to get my master’s or possibly get my degree in a different major so I have more options.”