Every time Chris Shaw took the field for Boston College this season, his future had him surrounded.
It didn’t matter if it was just batting practice and Shaw was trying to fine tune his swing. Curious eyes were always on him.
They wanted to see for themselves the swing that made the 6-foot-3-inch, 248-pound first baseman one of the best hitters in the country.
“It was a traveling road show everywhere we went with scouts, cross-checkers, and scouting directors and general managers every time we were taking BP,” said Boston College coach Mike Gambino.
The attention was almost impossible to tune out.
“It’s kind of hard to ignore 30 guys filming you with video cameras,” Shaw said. “But I kind of just looked at it like, ‘Hey, that’s pretty cool they’re over there.’ They’re there for a reason. They’re there because they think you’re pretty good. So just go out there and have fun.”
But for all the things Shaw knew the future had in store for him, he couldn’t let himself look ahead. Whatever happened, he figured, would happen.
His focus was putting together the best junior season possible, hitting .319 with 11 home runs and 43 RBIs and earning first-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference honors for the second straight season, and letting the draft sort itself out.
“When you have a kid who is getting that type of national attention, he’s in that conversation for the best hitter in the country and there’s a chance he’s going to be a millionaire here pretty soon and he’s telling all his teammates with his words and with his actions that he’s not worried about that,” Gambino said. “He’s worried about his team, he’s worried about helping us win.”
It wasn’t until BC’s season ended last month that Shaw started processing what was in front of him.
The past three weeks leading up to draft day have been a whirlwind of workouts with major league teams.
“I’ve been running around with my head cut off after I got home from school just flying out to different cities to work out for teams,” Shaw said. “Just trying to stay as game ready coming up on the draft because it could be that I get drafted on Monday, I’m signing Tuesday flying out to go play somewhere. So I’ve got to be ready to go.”
It hit him a week ago, when he found himself taking swings at AT&T Park for the San Francisco Giants. The possibility that Shaw could be drafted in the first round.
“I think it’s one thing to say that a month ago, my mind says, ‘Whatever happens happens,’ ” Shaw said. “I’m still in that state of mind as far as the draft goes, but once you fly out to these places, it’s kind of hard not to imagine how cool it would be to come play at a place like that. I guess you start dreaming a little bit.”
Gambino’s plan to prepare Shaw for the draft started before Shaw ever stepped foot on the BC campus.
Gambino first met Shaw when the slugger was shredding through the Middlesex League with a .500 batting average, 7 home runs, and 20 RBIs his senior year at Lexington High.
He knew he was recruiting a player who would be at the foundation of the program he was building. The last time a star of Shaw’s kind shot through the Heights was six years ago, when Tony Sanchez was taken fourth overall in 2009 after becoming the first player in school history to earn first-team all-ACC honors. Gambino knew Shaw’s ceiling was that high.
“I always believed he was going to get talked about this high in the draft,” Gambino said. “We talked a bunch of different times about what his goals were and what he wanted and what was going to prepare him best — not for professional baseball, not just for getting to the minor leagues — but what was going to help prepare him for the big leagues. That’s the ultimate goal, right?”
Shaw was selected by the Mets in the 26th round of the 2012 draft. His talent was obvious to Gambino. But the coach also saw how much of it was still untapped.
“When we talked about the draft after high school, I said, ‘Chris, I love you. You’re mature. There’s a lot of things about you I love, but you’re not ready for minor league baseball yet.’ ’’
They mapped out a plan to ensure that when Shaw left BC, he’d be mature and prepared enough to have immediate success. When Shaw hit .165 his freshman season, Gambino knew the growing pains were part of the process.
“It wasn’t because he couldn’t hit,” Gambino said. “He had to learn how to struggle.”
Slumps were a foreign concept to Shaw.
“It was terrible,” Shaw said. “I mean, every single day, I was waking up and it’s just like, ‘Do I really have to go back to the field today?’ But it’s one of those things that I got to a point where I stopped caring about results and focusing on the work I was putting in prior to the games and everything.”
He had to learn how to navigate 0-for-15 stretches, how to control the things that were in his power.
By the end of the season, though, he had banged out a team-high six home runs and drove in the second-most runs.
“It got to a point where it stopped being one of those things where I woke up every morning not wanting to go play baseball and just became a thing where, ‘Well, here we go. Back to work.’ Just put your head down, grind through it and eventually you’ll come out of it.”
From that point on, Shaw was a rock as the Eagles cleanup hitter, leading the team in batting average (.329), slugging percentage (.502), hits (68), RBIs (45), doubles (18), home runs (6), and total bases (104) his sophomore season. He followed up with a team-high .319 batting average, 11 home runs, 43 RBIs, and a .611 slugging percentage this spring.
Each year, Shaw said, he found ways to refine his approach at the plate.
“My hitting has changed immensely,” he said. “My approach is a million times better than it was in high school. I really quieted down my swing in the past three years and just have a much better understanding of the strike zone than I did for my freshman year.
“That goes into being patient and understanding certain situations where I might see a pitch to hit. Where I’m not going to see a pitch to hit and just becoming a student of the game really.”
Shaw was in the middle of a 15-game hitting streak in April when he fractured the hamate bone in his right hand. He found out before the last game of a three-game series against conference rival Clemson while the Eagles were trying to make a postseason push.
“During the pregame BP, he didn’t hit and I let him keep his phone in his back pocket so they could text him when they found out,” Gambino said. “He found out and he came over grabbed me and was kind of choked up. So I just started talking, I said, ‘Look, I know this stinks, but it’s a hamate.’ If you could pick an injury during your draft year, it’d be this. There’s no long term issues with it.
“He looked at me, and he was kind of [ticked]. And he says to me, ‘I don’t care about that right now. I want to play. I want to play with this team. I don’t care about that right now.’’
The injury was supposed to sideline Shaw for 3-6 weeks. He told Gambino: “Give me two weeks.”
Shaw sat out all of 18 days before telling Gambino he wanted back in the lineup.
“We sat and talked that day, I said, ‘Chris, you realize that you’re going to come back, you’re not going to be healthy, scouts are going to see you, you’re not really ready? It could hurt you.
“He said, ‘I don’t care. I want to help this team. We’re in a playoff hunt. I want to be on the field. I love these guys. I don’t care. If that hurts me, I’ll deal with it later.’ ”
He gave the Eagles two pinch-hit singles against Virginia Tech. With the future staring him down, Shaw controlled what he could.
“Come draft day,” he said, “whatever happens happens and that’s out of my control.”Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @julianbenbow.