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A big league education

Abilene Christian University partners with the Texas Rangers.

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It’s education time in Texas.

A year ago, Abilene Christian University signed a contract with the Texas Rangers to become the Major League Baseball team’s official higher education sponsor. Fans often heard ads for ACU, which is associated with Churches of Christ, during Rangers radio broadcasts last season. 

Going forward, the relationship between ACU and the Rangers will involve more than marketing or sponsorship opportunities.


Related: 10 favorite baseball stories featuring members of Churches of Christ


The franchise’s players and team staff can now earn credit toward bachelor’s and master’s degrees through a partnership with the Christian university.

RangersU Powered by ACU is a new program developed by Ben Baroody, the team’s director of leadership, development and mental performance, and Stephen Johnson, CEO of ACU’s branch campus in Dallas. The university and the Rangers announced the partnership during a recent news conference at Globe Life Field in Arlington. 

Abilene Christian University's partnership with the Texas Rangers is announced at a news conference featuring, from left, Tekoah Roby, Hickory Crawdads pitcher; Stephen Johnson, CEO of ACU Dallas; Ben Baroody, Rangers director of leadership, development and mental performance; and Jonathan Ornelas, Frisco RoughRiders infielder.

Abilene Christian University’s partnership with the Texas Rangers is announced at a news conference featuring, from left, Tekoah Roby, Hickory Crawdads pitcher; Stephen Johnson, CEO of ACU Dallas; Ben Baroody, Rangers director of leadership, development and mental performance; and Jonathan Ornelas, Frisco RoughRiders infielder.

“It really started more on a business partnership side, more of a sponsorship opportunity for the university,” Baroody said. “I think we both just tried to kind of be mutually opportunistic and say, ‘This can be more than just outfield signage. This can be something that we can build out for our players.’” 

In the midst of six straight losing seasons, the Rangers — who opened their new, $1.2 billion ballpark in 2020 — have made headlines with major free agent signings.


Related: A heavenly day at the ballpark


In all, the team doled out roughly $830 million in free agent money the past two offseasons, signing stars including Corey Seager, Marcus Semien and Jacob deGrom.

Baroody cited a desire to help players maximize their development — on and off the field. 

“This is our continued mission to create a culture of lifelong learners (and) to provide an environment of growth and development for both players and staff,” he said. “We believe that people are — and always will be — our competitive advantage.”

During the offseason, ACU partnered with the Rangers for various personal and professional development seminars, Baroody said. He thanked Rangers general manager Chris Young and the team’s ownership for supporting the educational efforts.

An ad for Abilene Christian University is shown on the big screen last season during a Texas Rangers game at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.

An ad for Abilene Christian University is shown on the big screen last season during a Texas Rangers game at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.

Players can enroll in fully online classes during the offseason. ACU faculty and staff team up with Rangers staff and past players to teach each course. The player track includes two blocks, the first focusing on leadership development and mental performance. The other track explores multicultural communication and baseball history. Courses are offered in English and Spanish.

Around 30 minor league players took classes this past offseason, and additional courses are under development for next offseason. Top prospects Tekoah Roby and Jonathan Ornelas were among the initial participants. 

Baroody praised Ornelas and Roby for being “early adopters” of the new program and trusting in the vision of what ACU and the Rangers are building together. 

“Part of developing in the baseball world and in real life is kind of finding your identity outside of baseball.”

Both players said they had benefited from the courses. They voiced appreciation for their teachers’ ability to customize the course load to professional baseball players’ demanding schedule.

“Part of developing in the baseball world and in real life is kind of finding your identity outside of baseball,” Roby said. “And one of those things that I’ve been able to add … is a student again.”

The first course block “taught you how to develop leadership abilities,” Ornelas said. “I feel like they are made to help us better ourselves on the field and even off the field.”

At Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, Rangers prospect Jonathan Ornelas talks about his experience with the RangersU Powered by ACU program.

At Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, Rangers prospect Jonathan Ornelas talks about his experience with the RangersU Powered by ACU program.

A joint sense of purpose and mission brought the Rangers and ACU together, and a shared drive will dictate the future growth of their relationship, Johnson said.

“What we’ve built together is more than just courses for players to take. We’re building a relationship on shared values and shared mission.” 

“What we’ve built together is more than just courses for players to take,” Johnson said. “We’re building a relationship on shared values and shared mission. We believe that the most important work that can be done is how we participate together in pouring into each other so that we flourish in who we are in whatever arena that manifests itself.”

Baroody agreed.

“These programs are just the beginning of what we hope to offer for our staff and our players,” he said. “The personal work taking place off the field will certainly show up on the field, and that’s our goal for this program.”

BRADY ROSS is an Associate Certified Coach (ACC) and a freelance writer. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Bible at Oklahoma Christian University and an M.Div. equivalency through ACU. To read more of Brady’s articles, visit bradyross.com.

Filed under: Abilene Christian Abilene Christian University baseball Christian higher education higher education major-league baseball National News Partners People Texas Texas Rangers Top Stories

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