Blue Jays’ Tolleson pursuing passion in finance


Steve Tolleson has played In 116 games over the past two seasons with the Blue Jays. (Keith Srakocic/AP)

Beyond the November eye surgery and regular workouts designed to prepare him for the present, Steve Tolleson also spent the off-season studying for his future.

As a result the valuable utilityman arrived at spring training last month with full certification as an investment advisor representative, as well as an improved focus at the plate thanks to his corrected vision, although his fate with the Toronto Blue Jays isn’t yet clear as decision-time nears.

“Nothing comes in front of me preparing for an upcoming season or me getting ready for a game that night,” Tolleson says during a recent interview. “That being said, we spend a very large part of our day thinking about baseball and baseball has its ups and downs, everyone in my opinion needs something to take their mind away from the game. For me, for the last 10 or 12 years of my life, it’s been reading about companies, reading articles on planning, saving or investing, that’s how my interest has grown.

“If I have a bad night, a few bad days, you lay in bed at night thinking about swinging and missing at curveballs, or you think about not getting the job done, that’s not healthy. Finding something to take some of your energy away from baseball – finance has always been that for me.”

Tolleson’s interest in finance is rooted in lessons about the value of money, saving and financial planning that his father, Wayne, an infielder who spent parts of 10 seasons in the majors, instilled in him at a young age.

The markets became a second passion for him alongside baseball, and when he received a scholarship offer from the University of South Carolina he selected finance as his major, with a focus on portfolio management.

He captained the Gamecocks in 2004 and ’05, helped the team twice reach the College World Series, made the dean’s list and eventually completed his degree.

“I was never into video games or anything like that,” says Tolleson. “In college I took finance and really enjoyed it. I talked to my dad a lot about finances and planning. He was always very open with how his finances were managed, he was really proactive with getting me involved in finance so I would have a better understanding. That’s something I want to do with my girls growing up.”

The Minnesota Twins made Tolleson a fifth-round pick in 2005, and when he signed a few weeks later, he hired a financial advisor. Then the market crashed and, “it piqued my interest. It made me want to know why did this happen, how can that be avoided.”

Over time, Tolleson began considering a second career in financial services whenever his baseball career came to an end, something the 31-year-old hopes doesn’t happen for a long time. Eventually he met Anthony Mahfood and Brian Boughner in his hometown of Spartanburg, S.C. and connected with their investment philosophies. When they founded their own firm, Parallel Financial Partners, he began working alongside them, eventually joining as a partner.

“They let me come in and do somewhat of a shadow two off-seasons ago, let me see how they run their business, how they run their meetings, how they manage portfolios,” says Tolleson. “Then last off-season, I really talked to them about wanting to take it a step further and they were equally as interested. My role with them right now is learning the ins and outs of the business, how we manage our money, how we get our research, how we formulate ideas, how we work individually with each client.

“Also, I work from the standpoint of trying to bring in money for management, whether it’s baseball players or people back from my hometown, people who are looking for sound advice on everything from investments to planning to budgeting.”

While Tolleson doesn’t actively recruit his teammates, he does encourage them to take longer-term looks at their financial situations.

The relatively short earning period in relation to lifespan for even the best players means smart planning needs to start immediately after they enter pro ball, Tolleson argues, but when the money is flowing, that doesn’t always happen. As he puts it, few 20-year-olds who suddenly find themselves living the big-league life have the wherewithal to spread a baseball career’s worth of earnings over a lifetime.

“The biggest thing people don’t realize is that money doesn’t magically appear in a savings account. Just because you’re making a lot of money, doesn’t mean that money is going to be there when baseball ends,” says Tolleson. “With our lifestyles and our earning years being at such an early age – potentially if you’re a great player you have 30 years from the time you retire to the time you’re at legal retirement age in the United States – if you haven’t saved and planned aggressively you had better made a whole lot of money. With the lifestyles you see and hear about in baseball, it’s an expensive lifestyle. …

“The decisions you make will affect the way your family lives for the next 30 or 40 years. That scares me. That’s why my interest level is where it is in finance and planning. I hope my friends and teammates also have those questions enter their mind.”

Tolleson acknowledges that “talking finance with anyone is delicate,” which is why he makes a point not to push his firm on anyone. But he’s seen past teammates struggle after receiving poor advice and believes athletes, particularly young ones, are vulnerable.

What he finds now is that teammates use him as a resource.

“I answered a lot of questions for people last year and feel like I created some awareness for some guys. This year it’s even more,” Tolleson explains. “They understand who I am, what I’m about and I’m really working on building a career after baseball, but I genuinely have a large care factor for my teammates and my friends. I want everyone to make the best decisions to put their families in the best positions they can. They have an opportunity to bless their families and their children’s children if they’re just smart. That goes a long way.”

For now, however, Tolleson is primarily focused on making the most of his window on the field.

Given the way second base prospect Devon Travis has played this spring, the Blue Jays’ need for Ryan Goins’ defence and the groin strain suffered by Maicer Izturis, Tolleson appears probable to break camp as the utilityman/fourth outfielder. He’s out of options, but he’ll be among the players on the roster bubble when left-fielder Michael Saunders and Izturis are ready to go (check out colleague Mike Wilner’s excellent breakdown of where things stand).

The fleeting nature of the business isn’t lost on him.

“In baseball, you’re here today, gone tomorrow,” Tolleson says, and either way, he’s ready for both eventualities.

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