Brian Plexico ’95, a former Cougars slugger, endured some heartbreaking strikeouts before hitting a home run in his career search: scoring his dream job with Major League Baseball.
As director of baseball systems for the Tampa Bay Rays, Plexico manages a team of programmers who write and maintain computer code that is the backbone of the organization’s decision-making apparatus. In today’s world of analytics-driven sports, this is how teams are made. Statistics, scouting profiles and analytics on thousands of baseball players – from amateur prospects to international players to pros on the team’s roster – are loaded into the software. The analysis it churns out can be the difference between a club that makes a run at the World Series and one that stinks up the ballpark.
And while programming skills are key, it also helps if, as Plexico does, you love the game. His passion for baseball began as a boy playing tee-ball and grew as he matured into a standout first baseman for Summerville High School in Summerville, S.C. He fielded offers from several Southeastern schools before settling on The Citadel. But just three days into his Knob year, his asthma flared up, and Plexico realized his lungs weren’t equipped for the rigors of military school.
After some frantic phone calls and a hat-in-hand visit to the College of Charleston admissions office, Plexico secured a last-minute slot at CofC in the fall of 1991. As a bonus, he walked on to the baseball team. But there would be no rise to sports glory. After redshirting his freshman year, a shoulder injury kept Plexico off the field for his sophomore season. As a junior, he made the difficult decision to hang up his cleats. “I started looking past college and figured the books were going to get me further than baseball,” he says.
A physical education major, Plexico began working with the College’s athletic trainers, supporting women’s soccer and volleyball. He was also selected for a prestigious sports medicine internship with the South Carolina Stingrays professional hockey team. A future career behind the scenes in sports began to come into focus. But those plans stalled when Plexico, after graduating with honors in 1995, was wait-listed for a spot in a physical therapy graduate program. At the time, he was engaged to be married, and waiting around to see if he was accepted didn’t make sense. So, he and his fiancé moved to Atlanta.
Plexico hated his first job as a manager at a rental car company. His wife, meanwhile, found work with a company that organized Microsoft Certification courses. Plexico began reading some of the course books she brought home, ultimately teaching himself enough to become a certified network engineer. Over the next few years, he bounced between consulting jobs before eventually moving back to Summerville, doing programming for a real estate company and a defense contractor.
But he knew he hadn’t found his dream job. One night in 2006, Plexico dozed off while watching tennis on TV. The next morning, he went online to see who had won. Clicking on a banner ad that caught his eye, he landed on a job posting portal for pro sports. He selected his skills and up popped an opening for a programmer with the Tampa Bay Rays, then called the Devil Rays.
Plexico started as the team’s lone programmer, rising to oversee a group of four coders. He’s celebrated the team’s trip to the World Series in 2008, an American League East Championship in 2010 and trips to the playoffs in 2011 and 2013. He’s met some of his baseball idols, including Nolan Ryan, and now counts among his friends several professional baseball players. And it’s pretty easy to get tickets to take his three daughters to Rays’ home games.
“For a kid who grew up a huge baseball fan to get to live this on a daily basis is unbelievable,” he says. “I figured the last time I put on a uniform for the College of Charleston that would be the end of baseball for me other than watching as a fan. I’ll be the first to admit, I’m one of the luckiest guys ever.”