Interview: Former UI athlete Bo Porter visits Iowa City to mentor current players

Bo Porter was a two-sport athlete for the Iowa Hawkeyes, lettering in both football and baseball. In 1993, he was drafted by the Chicago Cubs. He currently works for the Atlanta Braves and is a former manager of the Houston Astros. Bo will be returning to Iowa City this weekend to meet with student athletes on Friday, Nov. 11, and read from his new book, The End Game. He’ll be in town through Saturday for the game.

Are you stoked to be back in Iowa City?

Yeah, I am excited to be back in my old stomping grounds. Mostly I’m looking forward to watching Kirk and the Hawkeyes beat up on the Wolverines. I like to catch the Hawks whenever I can, in Indy, at the bowl games. The last time I was in Iowa City was homecoming a few years back against Michigan State — I was the honorary captain for that game.

Bo Porter lettered in both football and baseball during his time at Iowa -- photo courtesy of Bo Porter
Bo Porter lettered in both football and baseball during his time at Iowa — photo courtesy of Bo Porter
You were a two-sport varsity letterman [at Iowa]?

That’s right, baseball and football.

You’ll be reading from your new book?

I’ll be talking to the student athletes at a lunch, but yes I’ll be reading from my new book as well, The End Game. It deals with the reality that a career in sports comes to an end sometimes, but there are so many things that sports give you that you can carry forward to help you have a successful life.

Like most people, I’ve been a student for a good part of my life, but now as a teacher, sitting on the other side of the classroom, my perspective on education has changed. The same with writing and then working as an editor. Many, if not all, coaches were at one times athletes themselves — what has this role change taught you?

When you’re on the player side of things, it’s all about your own individual performance; how that plays into into team concepts of success is usually secondary to you. But as a coach you’re concerned with every player. It’s a more holistic viewpoint. A good coach wants to assists their players in reaching their full potential, and, in doing so, that builds success for the team. From where you can see things, your view as coach may not always be the same as your view as a player. Me personally, I’ve always appreciated my coaches through the different stages of development in my career, and being a coach I now have an even greater appreciation for the routines and drills at practice — you didn’t see it at the time, but [it] all had a purpose. It’s like when you’re a kid — there are those teachers that allowed you to whatever you wanted, get away with anything, but there were also those strict teachers who you may not have liked all that much. But looking back you realize the teacher with high standards, that strict teacher, she wants the most for you. They’re hard on you because they see your potential. They may see something special in you that maybe even you can’t see for yourself.

What did the coaches you look up to most teach you about yourself?

They helped me realize the greater impact sports can have on a person’s life. Many of my truest relationships started in sports. True characteristics of myself came out through sports, were developed through being on a team. For me, success in sports gave me the foundation and the confidence to succeed in life.

Atlanta Braves third base coach Bo Porter poses with his UI MVP award. -- photo courtesy of Bo Porter
Atlanta Braves third base coach Bo Porter poses with his UI MVP award. — photo courtesy of Bo Porter
Good teachers and coaches are essential, but there is something innate too. I feel that a big reason I am an artist is because my parents are both artists.

My mom and dad were both athletes, so there you go. But I also think it has a lot to do with growing up and watching them.

I agree; when I taught fifth grade, the only way to get my students to be quiet and read was to put away my phone and sit and read quietly with them.

I always talk about this in events and leaderships talks — you say more by what it is you do than by what you say. Words come and go, but people hang on to images. When you see something, you visualize it, and that image is what stays and makes an impact. I was raided by a single parent, so I didn’t just see her love of sports, I saw her fortitude and her determination, and that really inspired me. When I was at Iowa, balancing two sports and my academics, I visualized my mom and knew that she worked too hard for me to fail. Watching my mom really gave me the motivation to navigate not just sports, but my adulthood.

Are you father?

I am, and [laughs] I guess my son wants to be an athlete from watching me. My son Bryce wants to play basketball; that’s his sport. We were living in Atlanta, and I think he was seven at the time, and he was said, “Daddy, I want to talk with you.” So I said, “Okay, Bryce, I’m listening.” And he said, “Daddy, you may want to sit down for this.” He said that he knew that I loved baseball more than anything and that I had dreams of him playing baseball, and I told him the only dreams I have for him are that he graduate from college.

Then he said, “I want you to know I like basketball more than baseball.” And I said, “That’s great,” and he was so relieved. He said he’d been losing sleep over this conversation! And he’s seven years old. I don’t care if he does basketball, baseball or neither — he has my support no matter what. He’s grown up watching me care so much about baseball, that he thought that was what was most important to me, but I want him to know that it’s not what I care about so much as that I care, and that I support him in becoming his best self.

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