At age 12, Eric Tenbus nailed his dream job.
“I won a writing contest to become the Dodgers’ batboy for the spring training season,” Tenbus said. “So, when I was sixth grade, to my friends’ obvious jealousy and envy, I got to leave school early to go to spring training games. And I had my own uniform, which was an actual Dodgers’ uniform.”
In the spring, Tenbus landed another dream job. GC hired him as the new dean of the College of Arts & Sciences. His path to Milledgeville was an unorthodox transition from childhood dream to academic leadership.
As an 8-year-old, Tenbus moved to Vero Beach, Florida. He attended Los Angeles Dodgers spring training games at Holman Stadium, also known as Dodgertown.
Tenbus fondly recalls playing catch with his idol, Steve Garvey, pitching to Steve Yeager, listening to Dusty Baker’s jokes and serving as Davey Lopes’ bubble gum delivery boy.
“I remember even signing,” Tenbus said. “Autograph day, we’re out in the field, surrounded by little kids like myself, I was 12. But I’m in a uniform, and I remember all the kids coming up to me to ask me to sign thinking I was somebody important. So, I signed autographs too.”
Classmate Jay Smith moved to Vero Beach and met Tenbus in his junior year of high school. They quickly became fast friends.
“I don’t think I got to know him initially as Eric, I got to know him as ‘Dodge,’” said Smith, who keeps in touch with Tenbus today.
Tenbus graduated from St. Edward’s School in Vero Beach in 1984 and attended college at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. There, he graduated with a bachelor’s in professional writing. Tenbus moved back to Vero Beach to work for Redgate Communications Corporation, an advertising, public relations and marketing firm.
But Tenbus quit Redgate in November to take an internship with his first love. The Los Angeles Dodgers had just won the 1988 World Series title, marked by the heroic walk-off home run in Game 1 by Kirk Gibson, the 1988 National League MVP. Tenbus arrived the following spring.
“I didn’t know what was going to happen in April, but at least I knew I was going to be doing something that I knew that I would enjoy for the next several months,” Tenbus said.
Tenbus sold advertisements for the spring training publication in the winter, wrote content for the publication when the team arrived in February and worked in the public relations office during spring training.
“It sounds kind of glamorous in some respects,” Tenbus said. “But much of my job was to accumulate all this stuff that was being sent in by fans all over the country to get autographs.”
One day, Tenbus volunteered to be an extra in a poster shoot. A lanky, clean-shaven Tenbus was asked to don a pinstriped uniform, then placed behind a bamboo-like cage. The sign on the cage read: “Don’t feed the pitchers.” Tenbus and his friend looked out in terror as a man dressed in safari khaki loaded baseballs into his baseball bat rifle. That man was Kirk Gibson.
“So that was funny and fun,” Tenbus said. “So meanwhile, my fraternity brothers who I graduated with are all out working in consulting, the financial industry, Wall Street, whatever. I’m in a poster with Kirk Gibson. Now they were making a lot more money than I was, but I’m in the poster.”
At the conclusion of spring training, the Dodgers asked Tenbus to run extended spring training in Port St. Lucie, Florida.
“I had to make sure the players were getting fed, their meals were provided, taking care of all that kind of stuff,” Tenbus said, “So it was sort of what would be called today a traveling secretary.”
His job consisted of working on the publication in the winter, helping out wherever needed in spring training and serving as the business manager for instructional league teams throughout the summer and late fall.
Tenbus recalls hanging out with future Hall of Fame pitcher Pedro Martinez, and lunches with Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax, 1979 NL MVP Keith Hernandez, and hard-throwing pitcher Johnny Podres. He also shared his love of music with catcher Mike Piazza, also in the Hall of Fame.
“I got to be good friends with [Piazza],” Tenbus said. “We used to sit around and listen to Guns ‘N’ Roses. That’s what we used to do. Playing our guitars.”
After almost three years in the big leagues, Tenbus moved on.
“By 1991, I decided, ‘Okay, I’ve had my fun. Now I’m gonna go back to school,’” Tenbus said.
He reunited with Smith at Florida State University. In 2001, Tenbus earned a doctorate in history.
“[I] grew up reading box scores, just studying box scores,” Tenbus said. “And these were games that had happened probably a week or two before, and I’d just go through and study those, memorizing batting averages and home runs and ERAs and all that kind of stuff, so maybe that’s how I started to get myself ready to become a historian in looking at historical records because of baseball.”
The University of Central Missouri hired Tenbus in the fall of 2001. He earned tenure and eventually served as department chair. In 2010, Tenbus published “English Catholics and the Education of the Poor,” which evaluates the role of the Catholic church in 19th century education.
“When I went in and met him [my] first day, he still had his Dodgers [nameplate] on his office desk,” said Micah Alpaugh, an associate professor of history at UCMO. “We’d always keep up on the latest transactions and often times we’d be texting back and forth with one another on a nearly daily basis about the latest [news], especially when the postseason came around.”
Tenbus also shared his love of the game and the Dodgers with his 22-year-old son Conor, who estimates they’ve been to 16 games together.
“When I was in my middle school and high school, we tried to see the Dodgers once a year when they came to St. Louis, because that was the closest National League stadium,” Conor Tenbus said.
After 17 years in Missouri, Tenbus has taken up the Dean’s office in A&S. It looks out at GC’s iconic fountain. His desk is stacked with academic papers, but one item stands out: his Dodger blue nameplate. The Gibson poster will soon hang on the wall of his new home.
“So yeah, I guess I don’t really have the typical college professor background, but that’s alright,” Tenbus said. “And now I’m here. You can see I’ve got my nameplate [from my time with the Dodgers]. I still put that one there in front just to kind of keep my true colors out there in front.”