After a stellar pitching career at Wake Forest University, Mike Buddie was selected in the fourth round of the 1992 Major League Baseball Draft by the New York Yankees. He toiled through the minors for six years before finally being called up to the Majors in 1998.
His first stint in the Bronx was brief. So was his second. And third.
“My rookie year, I was sent down to the minor leagues nine times. The beauty is, I was called up 10,” Buddie said with a grin Wednesday, moments after being introduced as the new athletic director at Furman University.
Buddie stuck with the Yankees after that 10th promotion and enjoyed the team’s run to a World Series championship. Buddie remained in the Majors until 2002. He also pitched for the Milwaukee Brewers.
Buddie served the past nine years as an associate athletic administrator at Wake Forest University. He asserted that the same resilient attitude that helped him endure that rookie year assured him that he soon would be called up as a major league athletic director.
Within the last two years, Buddie was a candidate to become AD at Appalachian State University, the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga and The Citadel. For various reasons, each of those instances ended like a curve ball Buddie floated into the strike zone.
He watched someone else cross the plate as he regrouped.
“That’s just kind of the mentality you develop,” he said. “I never got discouraged. I knew there was a reason for everything. I was used to giving up home runs, so I was just going to get right back on the mound.”
Buddie’s passion and persistence will be critical to establishing a resilient budget at Furman. His experience in development, as a major gifts fundraiser, could help Furman keep pace in the facilities, personnel and equipment arms races that continue to drive costs in college athletics.
Within the NCAA Division I Championship Subdivision and specifically within the Southern Conference, Furman competes against public schools with much larger alumni bases and much deeper pocketbooks. Wake Forest faced the same challenges in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
NCAA deregulation and autonomous legislation— including scholarship reform, cost of attendance stipends, health care and loosened meal limits— can widen the stagger. Athletic directors at smaller Division I schools must determine creative strategies to close the gaps.
“Finances are a big concern,” Buddie said. “Obviously, it’s all relative. Wake Forest has a bigger budget than Furman, but we’re chasing people who have a lot bigger budget than us. All the NCAA legislation that’s kind of in limbo right now is something I just have to keep my thumb on the pulse of.”
Buddie knows he will not balance the budget with car washes and fish fries. It requires a long-term plan and long-term relationships.
“You don’t meet somebody the first day and ask them for a million dollars,” he said. “So, I’ve learned how to cultivate those relationships and match up a donor’s passion with what we’re trying to do. We try to involve student athletes. They’re who we’re representing. That’s who they’re investing in.”
Buddie said the call he received last week from Furman president Elizabeth Davis provoked the same emotions stirred by the call he received from the Yankees in 1992.
“It’s a rush of adrenaline, a little bit of panic, but really a relief because this is a job that I really wanted,” Buddie said. “One of the things you think about towards the end of your playing career is ‘What am I going to find that is going to motivate me and inspire me to get out of bed every day?’
“I feel very blessed to have found that in college athletics. Taking what I’ve learned as a student athlete and now as an administrator and transferring that information to young lives is really exciting.”