For Justin Bour, returning to George Mason University to complete his degree more than 14 years after leaving to pursue a career in professional baseball, is the fulfillment of a promise—one he made to himself.
“I promised myself as soon as I was drafted that no matter how long I played, whatever money I made, the first thing I’d do when I was done was to go back and finish my degree,” Bour said. “It was just always something I felt I needed to do.”
Bour, a first baseman and one of Mason’s most prodigious power hitters, who had three 20-home run seasons in a six-year major league career, is closing in on that goal. He needs just two classes and an internship to earn his sport management degree.
Bour, 35, will be the fourth member of his family with a Mason degree, joining his father Jim (BS Law Enforcement ’79), mother Tracey (BSN ’81), and brother Jason (BS Information Systems and Operations Management ’12), who also played at Mason as a catcher from 2006-07.
“I have been impressed with how thoughtful, methodical and consistent Justin has been in his pursuit of a college degree,” said Craig Esherick, sport management’s academic program coordinator. “It’s not an easy transition from professional ballplayer to college student, but he has as bright future as a leader in the sports industry as he did as a baseball player, when he entered the major leagues more than a decade ago.”
It’s a two-way street, Bour said, noting that the “person-to-person contacts at Mason are unrivaled.”
“The involvement of alumni and the people who work on campus will go above and beyond to help you reach your goals,” he said. “Mason, from my experience, is one of the most family-oriented places I’ve ever been to.”
Bour, who played for the Miami Marlins, Philadelphia Phillies and Los Angeles Angels from 2014 to 2019, and then in Japan, South Korea, and Mexico, retired in February. His best years were with the Marlins, with 23 home runs in 2015, and 25 in 2017. He also hit 20 in 2018, 19 for the Marlins and one for Philadelphia.
All that after a three-year Mason career, which ended in 2009, when he was drafted in the 25th round by the Chicago Cubs. His 46 career home runs are tied for second all-time at Mason. His 187 runs batted in are third.
His most memorable game at Mason? March 6, 2007, when he hit three home runs, including two grand slams, and drove in nine runs in a 28-1 victory over Coppin State.
“But in typical baseball fashion, in the next series, my first game, I went 0-for-5 with five strikeouts,” Bour said. “So baseball is very humbling. It always has been and always will be.”
To an extent, so was his transition from pro athlete to student.
Getting used to online classes was a challenge, Bour said. But the online flexibility is a plus for the family that lives in Ashburn, Virginia, as Bour can watch his son, Jimmy, who turns 4 in August, while Jimmy’s mom and Bour’s wife, Hayley Milon, works as a reporter for DC News Now.
“Retiring from sports is such a bizarre experience,” Milon said. “A lot of guys finish playing and it’s like, ‘Now what?’ So while I’m insanely proud and in awe of what Justin did playing-wise, I’m even prouder of him wanting to establish life goals and continue striving.”
Bour said he doesn’t know exactly where his degree will take him, though coaching is definitely an option. And his internship at a training facility called c5T Elite Sports will include coaching, giving private lessons, and learning how to manage a small business.
“I just hope it sets a good example,” Bour said of gaining his degree. “I want my son to realize how important that it was to me and how I could have taken the easy route and not done it. I believe more is going to come from me finishing than if not.”