Austin Shenton bats during a game between the AquaSox and the Canadians on July 11, 2019, at Funko Field at Everett Memorial Stadium. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Austin Shenton bats during a game between the AquaSox and the Canadians on July 11, 2019, at Funko Field at Everett Memorial Stadium. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Mariners draft pick, former AquaSox refuses to be ordinary

Austin Shenton quickly outgrew Everett, but his path to pro baseball has been anything but easy.

Seattle Mariners prospect Austin Shenton never could have predicted his college baseball three-year, cross-country path to pro ball. He traveled nearly 7,000 miles to play his first game in the Mariners’ organization 60 miles from where he grew up in Bellingham.

Shenton has triumphed, faced disappointment and battled heartache along the way.

No matter where Shenton’s journey has taken him or the amount of adversity he’s faced, he’s always persevered. And he’s hit everywhere he’s been.

“He doesn’t swing at bad pitches,” Mariners hitting coordinator Hugh Quattlebaum said. “He’s always on the right pitches, he makes adjustments, he’s really focused and he doesn’t deviate from his plan. He doesn’t get shook easily on what he likes to do and what he wants to do. It’s impressive to watch.”

Shenton, who started his pro career with the Everett AquaSox before earning a promotion to Low-A West Virginia two weeks ago, owned a slash line of .367/.446/1.041 (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) through 21 games before heading east.

The left-handed hitting third baseman was a fixture in the AquaSox’s lineup, providing a much-needed reliable bat. He impressed with his approach at the plate, which Everett hitting coach Joe Thurston claimed was beyond his years.

“It’s been awesome to see someone who is new to the organization and new to pro ball have such an advanced mindset,” Thurston said. “He has a very good swing and a very good idea of what he wants to do at the plate. He goes up there with a plan every time. You don’t see that every day in a first-year player.”

Shenton outgrew Everett in a little more than a month. Now, the Bellingham High School product and 2019 fifth-round pick, who in first grade predicted he’d one day be a Seattle Mariner, is determined to blaze an expedited path to the big leagues.

Crafting his swing

When Austin was 5 years old, Andrea Shenton questioned her son’s sanity.

Austin had received a child’s T-ball set from his parents, and one repetition after another he’d practice his swing at the Shenton’s’ Bellingham home.

“I remember watching him from the kitchen thinking there is almost something wrong with him,” Andrea joked. “What kid at that age can sit in the backyard and do that for hours?”

Austin developed a love for all sports, playing and excelling in basketball, football and tennis, but baseball stuck.

Before long, Austin found a new place to hone his craft. His parents got him a membership to Inside Pitch, a Bellingham baseball training facility. It quickly became his second home.

“I got some lessons with the guys down there, and I just focused on hitting,” Austin said. “It was hours upon hours. My parents would drop me off, and I’d just stay there for hours every single day. I barely took any days off. I might have even gone in on Thanksgiving, because Inside Pitch always gave me every opportunity to get better. I took full advantage of it, because I wanted to become the best hitter that I could be.”

Inside Pitch to Austin was part training facility, part clubhouse. He was there upward of 20 hours a week, nearly every single day for 3-4 hours, lifting weights, working on his swing, pleading for BP sessions from staff, watching sports or playing highly competitive games of ping-pong late into the night.

Brandon Hundt, Inside Pitch owner and lead instructor who became a brother-figure to Austin, frequently gave Austin rides back home after business closed for the day.

“He was a daily face there,” Hundt said, “People would pay for my time, but he’d always be there. If I had a break, he’d ask, ‘Can I get some BP time, can I get some BP time?’ After a while I’d be like, ‘Austin, dude, I need a break, man.’ I had to kick him out. He’d be there until 10 at night.

“We always told the kids it takes 10,000 hours of repetition to become a pro at something. I don’t know if he remembers us saying that, but he has put in his 10,000 hours. It’s been fun to watch.”

Hundt not only helped train Austin at Inside Pitch, he also coached Austin’s youth select team and has countless tales of the kid he and his teammates often referred to as Austin Superman.

Hundt’s favorite came when Austin was 14, and his Cascade Crush select team was competing in a national tournament against the best youth teams in the country. One of their games the Crush played a Southern California team coached by longtime MLB pitcher and World Series MVP Dave Stewart.

“Dave and I meet at home plate, and he is a cocky guy,” Hundt explained. “His team had rolled through everybody, and I’m sure they were looking at this team from Bellingham, Washington, thinking it’s going to be another 10-run game. Their pitcher is legit. He is mowing guys down, and on Austin’s second at-bat, I think it was his first pitch, he just unloaded on it. Behind the field there was the Steamboat Springs Olympic Training Center, and Austin hit the ball over the long-jump ramp. Dave Stewart looks at me and says, ‘Who is this kid?’”

Austin later hit walk-off double to win the game, and the memory lives on as one of Hundt’s favorites.

Hitting wasn’t always Austin’s specialty, though. He was first a dominant pitcher. Oddly enough, he discovered his love for hitting after throwing a perfect game when he was 12 years old.

“I was really good at pitching growing up, and I thought that is what I’d do,” Austin said. “Then I realized I was one of the best hitters on my team, and, I don’t know, just that summer I decided I wanted to get really good at hitting. I just stopped focusing on pitching and focused on hitting.”

Austin gained recognition from pro scouts as he aged. He outgrew local ball and began playing across the country. He suffered a setback his freshman year at Bellingham High when he tore his ACL, MCL and meniscus minutes into his first start as the high school’s starting quarterback.

The injury concluded Austin’s football career. Although he switched to tennis in the fall and continued playing basketball, baseball was Austin’s future.

Journey to the pros

Austin never ruled out a jump from high school to pro ball.

He committed to play for the University of Washington before being selected by the Cleveland Indians in the 34th round of the 2016 MLB draft. The selection was more of a nod to Austin’s hard work rather than a representation of Austin’s talent.

There was some thought Austin could get drafted high enough to warrant him skipping college baseball, but with the late-round selection, he decided to put his professional baseball dreams on hold.

Instead of UW, Austin played for Bellevue College, hoping to improve his stock for the 2017 draft. He hit .395 with 56 RBI and seven home runs in 49 games, but didn’t stick in the 2017 MLB draft. To gain visibility and continue playing with hitting coach Jered Goodwin, Austin crossed the coast to play his sophomore and junior seasons at Florida International University.

“I think college helped me immensely to mature and just learn who I am as a person a little more,” Austin said. “I grew up a lot. One of the most important things in life is being comfortable in an uncomfortable situation, and I had to find comfort in Miami being 3,500 miles away from home.”

Austin’s hitting prowess traveled with him.

He was a second team All-Conference USA selection his sophomore year, hitting .344 with nine home runs and 29 RBI. But Austin really flashed his potential during summer ball, playing for Wareham Gatemen of the prestigious Massachusetts Cape Cod League. The league attracts top college baseball standouts from across the country.

With pro scouts flocking to every game, Austin recorded a .349 batting average before leading the Gatemen to a championship with an unbelievable postseason performance.

Austin went 12-of-23 (.522 average) in six postseason games, hitting three home runs with 12 RBI. He earned playoff MVP honors before ending his summer by being named the 2018 Perfect Game/Rawlings Summer Collegiate Player of the Year.

“He has done some things that have really impressed me, and he just has the attitude of no big deal,” Hundt said. “Each level he climbs, he just seems to excel. You think he gets to this level and he is going to see better pitching and might slow down, nope. Then it’s the next level, nope. Then he got to the Cape Cod league and I said, ‘OK, you’re going to see pitchers everyday throwing 93-95 and will probably struggle,’ nope.”

Following the breakout summer, Austin uncharacteristically struggled the first half of his junior season before finishing the year with a .330 average, seven home runs and 47 RBI. All was well at FIU, but Austin faced adversity off the diamond.

Months prior, back home in Bellingham, Andrea sat Austin down and revealed to him she had breast cancer.

“He loves his mom and dad, and I have a good connection with him,” Andrea said. “But that was a little reality check. He thought, ‘How could I go back to FIU and leave my mom going through all this?’ But I had my work to do, and he had his work to do.”

Andrea received a massive outpouring of support from the FIU community that she still cherishes. The group supported Austin, too.

“My mom is one of the strongest people I know, and she has been battling this and doing an amazing job,” Austin said. “It’s gotten easier as time has gone on. It was a little tough being at FIU, but seeing my family is really special up here (in Everett), and having them be able to come to games is awesome.”

Andrea completed her first round of chemotherapy and is now on her second, less-intensive phase, which she describes as “chemo-light.” The side effects have been more manageable, Andrea said, and she feels she’s starting to progress forward. Forever she stays optimistic.

One of the best remedies has been following right along with Austin on his baseball journey, and after three years of playing ball in three of the United States’ four corners, Austin came home to Bellingham for the June MLB draft.

“It was probably the most stressful and least favorite day I’ve had in my life, because you have no idea,” Austin said. “You’re sitting there watching names go by and then all of a sudden you’re like, ‘Man, am I going to go? When is it going to happen?’”

Austin, with his sterling college resume, anticipated he’d be selected between the second and fourth round. Late in the fourth, Austin and his family finally received good news.

The Mariners called, informing Austin’s agent they were selecting him in the fifth round if he was still available. When the time came, and Austin was still on the draft board, the Mariners made his dream a reality.

“Leading up to it and knowing you are going to get picked, your heart is still going,” Austin said. “I mean, you’ve been working your whole life for that moment.”

Austin isn’t a physically-imposing athlete. He’s 6-0, 195 pounds and has a record of being overlooked. The draft outcome again left him feeling discounted, and it’s fueled his motivation moving forward.

“I think I kind of expected it in a way,” said Austin when asked about his fast start with Everett. “I’m going to be honest, I felt like a lot of teams passed up on me, and it kind of lit a fire in me. Every game I just want to prove that I was one of the better players in the draft and got overlooked. I’ve always had a chip on my shoulder and I’ve thought, ‘All right, this season and in the future I’m going to prove the Seattle Mariners made the best decision they’ve ever made drafting me in the fifth round.’”

Refuse to be ordinary

Andrea took Austin to his sister’s organic farm when he was 7 years old. Austin, like most 7 year olds would, took an interest in the farm’s chickens. Before long, Austin had named several of them.

Austin and his family left for the beach and when they returned, the reality of farm life hit Austin hard when he realized the chickens had been butchered. It was a scarring moment for Austin that the Shentons now look back on and find levity in.

“He flat out stopped eating meat all together,” Andrea said. “It was never pushed on by anyone. He came to that on his own.”

Now a pescatarian, fish is the only meat Austin has consumed since that moment 15 years ago.

Austin’s diet is a miniscule piece of what makes him who he is beyond baseball.

Austin, who is Native American and a foster child, was adopted by the Shentons when he was 5 years old. Austin’s older brother, Ian, lost partial brain functionality before he was born, but is successful and a brilliant light in the Bellingham community. He enjoys going to baseball games and works for Hundt at Inside Pitch.

“Striving and refusing to be ordinary,” Austin said. “That is something I have always lived by.”

The motto is illuminated in Austin’s Twitter bio, and while he loves baseball, Austin refuses to be defined by it.

Tucked between Mount Baker in the east and the Puget Sound to the west, Austin fell in love with the outdoors growing up in Bellingham. His family bought a Nikon D3200 DSLR camera when he was 15 years old. Before long, Austin adopted it as his own.

“We’d kind of just play around with it,” Austin explained. “Then I took it out a couple of times, and at a certain point kind of took over the camera all together. I’d go out for a hike and drive around and just find a beautiful place and take a photo of it. That is what kind of sparked my love of photography. That became one of my hobbies.”

Andrea, an earlier riser, recounts multiple times she was up before dawn and saw Austin running out the door to reach a photo location before sunrise. Austin’s Instagram page displays a sampling of his work, which contain captions professing his love of the Pacific Northwest.

If Austin doesn’t become a world-traveling photographer after baseball, he’d be interested in operating a plant-based restaurant, or pursuing a career in golf, or perhaps becoming an environmentalist.

But Austin hopes those other full-time career ventures are far on the horizon. He’s just enjoying the journey.

“Life has a funny way of shaping up,” Austin said. “I could have never predicted the journey I have been on. Never in a million years did I think, one, I’d go to JUCO, two, I’d end up at Florida International living in Miami for two years and then, three, starting my pro career in Everett, Washington, an hour south of where I grew up my entire life. So, life is crazy sometimes, but I’m enjoying it so far.”

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