With the world in the middle of a pandemic and his professional baseball career at its end, Cody Asche went back to school, seeking the college diploma he never received after being selected by the Phillies in the fourth round of the 2011 draft.

First he took some online classes in the summer and then he became a full-time student in the fall. By December, he had a bachelor’s degree in business administration.

“I didn’t get to walk across the stage, but when my diploma showed up in the mail, that was pretty cool,” Asche said.

The itch to somehow remain involved in baseball, however, had not subsided. In fact, it was only fueled by the completion of his education.

“It was crazy,” he said. “Every class that I was in, I’m learning the material and thinking, ‘How does this work in a baseball environment?’ We had to do a ton of different exercises where we found a random job posting and then applied for the job or at least made a resume for it. That was the hardest thing for me, trying to find a job that I could actually do. I could never get a distinct visualization of my future being something that did not involve baseball.”

Shortly after he received his college degree, Asche started pursuing jobs and one of his early calls went to Chris Truby, the field coordinator for the Phillies’ minor-league system.

“He was my manager in Clearwater my first full season and we always had a good relationship,” Asche said. “I called him and we had a really good talk, but he told me the Phillies didn’t have anything right now, but that he’d pass my name up the chain of command and see what happens.”

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A few weeks later, as major-league spring training was about to begin in Clearwater, Fla., something really good happened for Asche. Chris Heintz was promoted from being the hitting instructor at low-A Clearwater to the organization’s assistant hitting instructor for the minor leagues.

That meant there was a job opening at Clearwater.

“I interviewed with a ton of different people,” Asche said. “Some of them I had known and some were brand new to me. It was all really good stuff and they ended up picking me, so I’m happy to be here.”

Truth be told, Asche would still be playing if that was possible. Before COVID-19 shut down the game last March, he was ready to return for what might have been a fourth straight season of playing mostly in the minor leagues.

“I felt like I was in a good spot to show that I could at least be a four-A type player and then COVID came around,” Asche said. “At some point you have to make the decision to stop playing the ‘what if’ game and you just have to accept things for what they are and that’s where I’m at. It was definitely hard. There were a lot of days where I was screaming at clouds and just ticked off at the world because you’re not getting another opportunity, but that’s the way it goes, especially in baseball.”

The next Chase Utley

Cody Asche’s big-league career started with great promise. A third baseman, he was the first player from the team’s 2011 draft class to get to the big leagues, making his debut as a pinch-hitter on July 30, 2013. Even before his arrival, however, he had received the flattering distinction of being compared to Chase Utley.

To this day, he considers that an honor and not a curse.

“If you’re ever compared to someone with that kind of stature, the only way I would ever look at it was as a compliment because I just looked up to him so much from a super young age,” Asche said. “Now if I was 23 and compared to someone who never made it out of double A, I would have been ticked off. I never thought about it being extra pressure or having to live up to those expectations. If I would have been a better player, we might have been talking about Cody Asche being the next Chase Utley, but I just wasn’t that guy in the big leagues.”

Ability-wise, Asche knows he did not come close to Utley, but he still believes his drive to succeed was on the same level, which might just be one reason his coaching services interested the Phillies even though his resume did not include any coaching experience.

“I know that I truly cared about wearing the Phillies uniform,” said Asche, who batted .240 with 31 home runs and 125 RBIs in parts of four seasons in Philadelphia.

Asche signed with the Chicago White Sox in 2017 and hit .105 in 19 games on the South Side early that season before being sent to triple-A Charlotte for the remainder of that season. He flourished again in the minors, hitting .292 with a .392 on-base percentage and an .887 OPS, but the White Sox declined to re-sign him.

He spent 2018 hitting .169 in 19 games with the Yankees’ triple-A affiliate in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and .230 in 89 games with the Mets’ triple-A affiliate in Las Vegas. Two years ago he opened the season with manager Pete Incaviglia’s Sugar Land squad in the Atlantic League before landing a job with Boston’s double-A team in Portland, Maine. He was hitting .208 when a fractured leg ended his season and, as it turned out, his career.

A victim of velocity

“I have no regrets,” Asche said. “I tried just about every way I could to get better. From the day I was done with the Phillies, I had a one-track mind to get back to the big leagues and I explored every avenue that I could to get back.”

The most noticeable change in the game during Asche’s nine seasons of professional baseball was the velocity hitters had to face on a daily basis.

“I think for sure it impacted the length of my career,” he said. “We could get technical about my swing flaws and whatnot, but whatever I had with my swing wasn’t conducive to hitting super-high velocity and that’s part of the basics of what you need to do now as a player.”

Asche is not alone in that regard. Many believe a rise in velocity is the reason for the drastic decline in batting averages. Through Tuesday’s games, all players combined in baseball were hitting .234. If that were to hold up through the season, it would be the lowest mark in the game’s history, surpassing the .237 total of 1968. The mound was lowered from 15 to 10 inches the following season.

“The hitters are behind in that regard right now because it’s hard to change,” Asche said. “Our low-A staff [at Clearwater] has four or five pitchers that can run it up to 97. It’s ridiculous and it wasn’t like that when I started. So now the hitters are being trained whether they like it or not. It’s trial by fire at a young age. I think eventually they’ll catch up and [97] will become normal just like 90 to 92 was normal eight years ago and 95 was the upper end. The game will move from there and I guess eventually we will reach the upper end of what the human body can do on a baseball field.”

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Ready to teach

Cody Asche no longer has to try to hit the searing fastballs that so often frustrated him. Now, he has to teach kids, mostly in their early 20s, how to catch up with them.

“I think I have always had a really good ability to connect with other people,” he said. “Being a friend, having empathy and being a mentor and a leader are skills that I always felt were kind of part of what I did. And I really think that’s a huge part of coaching, especially at an affiliated level.”

Those old comparisons to Utley might come in handy as Asche transitions from player to coach at age 30. Work ethic is one of the top qualities every coach needs and no one would ever blame Asche’s lack of success at the big-league level on a lack of trying.

He plans to maintain his high level of intensity and compassion in his new job.

“I try to bring the excitement and be the energy for someone who needs it that day,” Asche said. “You have to be the guy who can kick a dude in the butt when he’s not showing up or doing the thing he needs to do. You have to sit in the cage with a guy sometimes for an hour after a game and make sure a player knows that everything is going to be all right. There are a just a lot of hats to put on as a coach and I think the value I can provide is that I’ve been through a ton of different things. Regardless of what my stat line said on the field, I don’t think that is necessarily a reflection of what you know or what you can teach about a swing.”

Armed with a business degree from Nebraska, Cody Asche is once again all about the business of baseball.