Unlike most, Bellingham junior Austin Shenton learned the value of hard work at a young age.
He grew up playing four of five different sports, and at 9 years old his parents purchased him a membership to Bellingham’s Inside Pitch. It wasn’t until age 12 when Shenton settled on baseball and began taking advantage of both his membership and baseball ability.
But Shenton will be the first one to admit his work ethic, rather than natural ability, has elevated the University of Washington commit to becoming one of the top 60 ranked players in the nation for his 2016 class.
“Especially for baseball, because baseball is a skill-oriented game,” Shenton said. “Especially hitting, you got to put in the hours. You can be a naturally good hitter just because you have good hand-eye coordination, but you have to put in a lot of hours to really master your craft in hitting especially.”
So what does a normal week look like for the Bellingham junior?
Shenton practices from 3-5:30 p.m. or so after school for Bellingham’s High School team and then works out at Inside Pitch from 7-9:15 p.m. Monday through Friday. On Saturday he’ll put in more hours, and if he’s really up to it, Shenton will be at Inside Pitch on Sundays, too. Shenton estimated 20 hours of his week are spent at Inside Pitch’s training facility.
“At 11 or 12, I kind of thought to myself, ‘I want to get really good at hitting, because hitting is fun,’” Shenton said, “and I’ve always loved baseball. I’ve always had a passion for hit. ... I just worked at it. Probably had to be around 300 days out of the year going down to Inside Pitch and just hit, hit, hit and tried to get better.”
Shenton, who primarily plays third base, is reaping the benefits now. His future is bright with a large scholarship awaiting at UW, and he hopes to be drafted high out of high school.
But before the pro prospect begins the journey to the bigs that he’s hopeful for, Shenton is thrilled to be back on the diamond contributing to the success of Bellingham High’s baseball program.
“It was kind of tough last year to watch them play,” Shenton said, “but this year I’m excited. Some of my best friends are on this team, so just playing with them, they all work hard and they are all pretty funny. They keep it fun. This is probably one of the most fun teams I’ve played for.”
And that’s saying a lot, given the countless travel teams Shenton’s played with during his baseball career.
Shenton’s return to prep baseball has been long awaited. He hasn’t suited up since hitting for a .406 average with seven doubles, two homers, 21 RBI and 22 runs scored as a freshman.
Shenton played tennis this past fall and basketball during the winter, but he was set as Bellingham’s starting quarterback his freshman year and was excited at the opportunity to play his second favorite sport.
Only one quarter into Shenton’s first game under center, disaster struck on a running play.
“When it happened, I was just like, ‘Oh, no,’” Shenton said, “because right when it happened I kind of had one of those split-second feelings of, ‘Oh, I’m not going to be playing for a while.’”
An MRI revealed a torn ACL, MCL, meniscus and a bone contusion. Shenton endured nine months of grueling rehab.
“It really put things in perspective and kind of taught me how to not take things for granted, really,” Shenton said. “I had to learn how to walk again. I had to learn how to run again. You can’t really take those things for granted anymore. You have to enjoy the time while you have it.”
Now feeling 100 percent, Shenton’s return obviously brings a ton of positives to the Red Raiders’ lineup.
He gives coach David Farrell a strong three-hole hitter he can rely on to get great at-bats out of every time up, but the Bellingham junior offers the team more than pure talent.
“He was missed, and it wasn’t just his swinging the bat,” Farrell said in a phone interview. “These kids love him, and he is a funny kid. He goes and he works hard at his craft, and his work ethic and drive to be good is pretty infectious with the team.”
Bellingham feels its has the potential to have a strong season. The Red Raiders are bringing back their entire infield and pitching staff after finishing 6-6 in the Northwest Conference a year ago, and the group is made out of 12 seniors, not including key juniors Shenton and Bobby Cooke.
And Shenton hopes he can be a pivotal piece. He’s certainly put in the work to be.
“When you watch him, he’s mastering his craft,” Farrell said, “and it shows. The countless hours have shown, and you know by watching and the way the ball jumps off his bat. He has been a few places where he has faced good pitching. He will be ready to go and be ready to come out and put big numbers up for us, which is his expectation.”