After his sophomore season at Clemson, the third baseman from Charlotte spent the summer of 2011 with the Chatham Anglers of the Cape Cod Baseball League, and found his way to the fabled ground on Yawkey Way via All-Star Game festivities.
“I had been [to Fenway] before and did a little home run derby, but I didn’t actually get to play in a game,” said Shaffer, who won the contest with six long balls. “The Cape last year was my only real experience up here. For the most part you are playing every single day. It’s just a very condensed version of what this is right now. Those experiences helped me prepare for now.”
This past Saturday he returned to Fenway Park as a member of the Hudson Valley Renegades of the New York-Penn League, the Short-Season Single-A farm team of the Tampa Bay Rays.
Shaffer, the 25th overall pick of this past June’s draft, did not send any balls over the Monster in his return trip, but he did finally get his chance to play in a game, in which his Renegades would win, 6-5, over the host Lowell Spinners.
“It’s pretty neat and obviously the tradition is incredible at Fenway, so just being out there on the same field where some of the legends of baseball played is obviously a tremendous honor,” said Shaffer, who went 0-for-5 on the day but flashed some solid defense. “You respect it, it’s pretty amazing and hopefully that’ll just be a taste of things to come for all of us.”
For now Shaffer is enjoying his first taste of professional baseball, after having captained his Clemson squad to a 35-28 mark during his junior year.
He earned two First Team All-ACC nods in his three seasons with the Tigers, compiling a .325 batting average to go along with a .448 on-base percentage, 30 home runs, 47 doubles, 137 RBIs, 156 runs and 125 walks.
It didn’t take long for Shaffer to realize a striking difference in jumping from college to the pros.
“The everyday grind, it’s what everyone talks about, and it’s honestly the truth,” said Shaffer. “Coming out here you have to be mentally prepared every day and be physically ready to accept the challenges that the day holds. You’ve got to have that mental intensity and that focus, one-hundred percent, every day. There’s some off days where you can relax in college, but here you have to bring it every day.”
Keeping it all in perspective, Shaffer added, “The bases are still 90-feet apart and the mound is still 60-feet, 6-inches away. At the end of the day you’re still playing baseball, it’s just getting used to a new environment, getting used to a new group of guys and getting used to playing every day.”
Sharing the experience with a highly-talented group of players (Hudson Valley boasts four first-round or supplemental first-round selections) Shaffer is finding his comfort zone amidst the daily grind, but is still trying to find his groove at the plate.
In 19 games, the 21-year-old is hitting .254 with three home runs, 12 RBIs and 19 runs. He has only one double and has struck out 20 times while drawing only nine walks.
He continues to show an improved approach to patience when he hits the box, having walked three times and struck out only twice over his last six games.
If that pattern holds, the numbers will certainly increase as he works his way through the Rays system. His ever-positive attitude will help him maintain.
“I’m feeling pretty good, just trying to get into a groove and stay consistent,” said Shaffer of his approach to hitting. “That’s the name of the game. You can have and 0-fer day one day, then turn around and go 3-for-4 the next. It’s just staying confident mentally and just trying to be as consistent as possible every day.”
He has displayed this consistency in the field, having posted a .923 fielding percentage in 12 games at third base, a position many believe he may not be long for mainly due to what the Rays already have in place with Evan Longoria.
If the organization takes that approach then they may miss out on a nice gem at the hot-corner, as Shaffer also possesses accuracy in a cannon arm. But if a move became necessary, Shaffer put in two seasons of work at first base while at Clemson.
“I’m really working on just trying to become a complete player overall,” said Shaffer. “I’m trying to limit all of my weaknesses and trying to extend the positives, working on my reactions and my first steps at third.”
The Renegades are 40-20 on the year and maintain a three game lead over the Brooklyn Cyclones in the New York-Penn’s McNamara Division, giving this young group a chance to extend their on-the-job training.
Shaffer would have it no other way, as he continues to find the positives, even when he stumbles.
“If you have rough days where you boot a ball or go 0-for-4, there’s something you did in the day to help you grow as a player,” said Shaffer. “Whether you spit on a breaking ball that you usually swing at or you’re a step quicker on a ground ball, there is something throughout every day that you can draw a positive on and that’s what’s key.”
Keeping this mentality will be the key to Shaffer earning another return trip to Fenway Park, which would most likely come with the big club.
Craig Forde can be reached by email at email@example.com and you can follow him on Twitter @BeyondFenway.
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