Nick Has a KnackSeptember 16, 2011
Wisconsin Timber Rattlers infielder Nick Shaw kept waiting for one to arrive, but when his spurt never made an appearance, he pressed on to produce gigantic results.
“Going into high school and then college I was never the big kid,” said Shaw, a 2010 draft pick of the Milwaukee Brewers. “I was maybe 5-3 going into high school and maybe 5-7 going into college. So I didn’t get much exposure or anything.
“I always had to prove myself wherever I went because of my size.”
Back when size didn’t matter, Shaw gobbled up the game when he was a youngster growing up in St. Petersburg, Florida where attention to baseball gets year round treatment and opportunities to play.
“I was four years old and my dad (Rick) was always my (Little League) coach when I was young so I’d be out there no matter what,” said Shaw. “And if I wasn’t playing I was practicing. That helped get me to where I am and where I’ve been.”
It was serious business sprinkled with fun for Nick, who took advice from his father until it was time to learn some lessons from a different voice.
“He was a little bit in between, he let fun happen but at the same time he was serious about it to make sure I was doing the things I needed to do to get better,” said Shaw. “He got me with a hitting coach when I was seven years old and I worked with him for about eight years.”
What developed was Nick’s knack for the strike zone. His anticipation of a pitch with only fractions of a second to react became his keenest sense at the plate. Shaw began feasting on pitch selection that would turn into productive at bats and trips to first base.
“That started when I was really young as well,” added Shaw. “It started with my hitting coach, and then progressing, I adopted his theory and plate approach. But I remember when I was young, like 10 or 11; I would accuse the umpires and say that ball was high. I didn’t know any better and my dad would get on me about that.”
Patience at the plate became Shaw’s trademark, so much so that he set an NCAA Division II record with 215 career walks during his collegiate days at Barry University in Miami. Small player at a small school, but big time results piled up.
“I think I’m more patient because I don’t necessarily take the aggressive ‘I’m going to hit the ball 400 feet’ type of hack,” said Shaw, who still managed two home runs with the Timber Rattlers this past season, including his first professional round tripper on April 7th. “I try to recognize the ball and see it longer than most do. I’m not sure if that’s the case or not because I can’t speak for anybody else, but I think taking a lot of pitches is my game, so it becomes old hat…take a bunch of pitches and recognize the strike zone.”
When Shaw wasn’t drawing free passes, he was making contact, and making a name for himself on the college baseball scene. He earned First Team All-Sunshine State Conference honors as a junior and senior, and was a Third Team All-American in 2008 during his sophomore campaign. Shaw garnered the hardware by fighting during each and every at bat to get a pitch that felt perfect and refusing to battle in a war of words with those who scoffed at his size.
“I’m more of the quiet type anyway so I don’t get in confrontations very much,” said Shaw. “Hopefully I just let me play do the talking. I had high school teammates getting drafted, a kid from my senior season went to the same college as me, but I ended up playing.”
Shaw grabbed his opening opportunity to play at the professional level the instant he was signed following the draft. In 48 games with the Brewers Arizona Rookie League team, Shaw hit .339, 4th in the league, was tops with 37 walks while swiping 14 bases in an All Star season that also featured, not surprising, Shaw’s league leading .471 on-base percentage.
“I’m not the big home run guy so I’ve just got to get myself on first base and let the big guys do the work,” said Shaw.
In fact Shaw didn’t hit a single dinger in 2010, but he still earned a promotion to Class A this past spring with the Timber Rattlers. But for whatever the reason, even Shaw’s sharp eye at the plate couldn’t bail him out of a horrific beginning.
“It’s been a crazy up and down year so I’ve had to tune up my mental game big time this year,” said Shaw during the final home stand of the Timber Rattlers season. “In the beginning, I started off horrible and had thoughts of shutting it down, thinking this isn’t for me. But you just have to take it game by game and know so much can happen in a 140 game season.”
With his father and hitting coach miles away, the 5-11 Shaw sought someone who could look him straight in the eye and perhaps help him regain his batter’s eye. Turns out, first year Manager and former Brewers infielder Matt Erickson, who also stands 5-11, was handy and helpful.
“I talked to Matt and had many conversations with him on the side because I was struggling, 6 for 50 or something ridiculous like that in the beginning,” said Shaw. “He said, ‘that’s OK, I was 19 for my first 100 in Double A.’ So I just had to shoot for that and hopefully take off from there. What a great staff we have here.”
Shaw also tapped the veteran knowledge of hitting coach Dusty Rhodes, and when his hitting and plate discipline came around, he could finally focus on his shift on the infield from shortstop to second base.
“Defensively I moved from second to short and I’ve handled that pretty well,” said Shaw “It could have been better, my hitting could have been better, everything could have been better. But for me, the biggest thing is the mental thing improving this year.”
When the roller coaster season came to a halt, Shaw had cobbled together numbers that matched his calling card. He led the Timber Rattlers in games played (126), hits (121) and walks (82). That base on balls digit was second in the Midwest League, and his .374 on base percentage was good for 12th on the charts. Perhaps Mother Nature was a reason for Shaw’s ice cold kick start to a productive season, because as the Wisconsin weather warmed up, so did Shaw’s offensive skills.
“Obviously starting in really cold weather, and being from Florida, it kind of shocked me,” said Shaw. “The first month was brutal; I’m not going to lie! There were days when you dread coming to the park, but you’ve just got to fight through that. But since the first month, it’s been awesome. It’s been a lot of fun here.”
Back home to bask in the warmth and familiar surroundings of Florida, Nick Shaw is soaking up the sun and some downtime before heading off to instructional league tutoring on September 18th. After proving that good things do indeed come in small packages, Shaw will continue to dream big and play even bigger.
“A lot of these guys are from big D-1 schools; they’ve been here and been there, but with me, coming from a small D-2 school that not many people have heard of, and always being the short guy, my dream is to prove everyone wrong,” said Shaw. “I’m sure they’ve had the conversation in the stands, this guy has no chance, but my dream is to prove them wrong. Not in a bad way, but just to say, you know what, it can happen.
“To be that story, that would be nice.”
(PHOTOS BY BRAD KRAUSE)