While making the daily commute to the ballpark from his apartment in Abingdon, Virginia – where he and his wife, Brooke, live – Bristol Pirates infielder Aaron Shackelford has plenty of time to reflect.
All the major events that have occurred for him over the previous seven months – marriage, being named NAIA national player of the year, getting drafted, making his professional debut – occasionally cross his mind as he makes the 20-minute drive.
Once he pulls into the parking lot at DeVault Stadium, it’s time for another day at the office. Don’t blame Shackelford if he has to pinch himself.
“It’s crazy that I do this as a job now,” Shackelford said. “I’m just content to being out here and playing. When I think about trying to prove myself; that makes me play worse. I just think of going out there competing, playing hard and working hard.”
That approach has worked for Shackelford, who has been a sparkplug for the BriBucs.
He will carry a team-high .340 batting average into today’s Appalachian League home game against the Pulaski Yankees.
The 14th-round draft pick from The Master’s University in Santa Clarita, California, has made a good first impression.
“He came from a small school, but he plays big,” said Bristol manager Kieran Mattison. “Shackelford challenges himself and pushes himself to be great. I see why he’s been able to have the success he had in college. He has a different mindset than the norm and he comes in ready to work every day.”
The 5-foot-10, 205-pound Shackelford is mature beyond his 22 years.
“I’ve been most impressed by his composure,” said Bristol catcher Ethan Goforth. “He handles everything in stride.”
That demeanor can be traced to his deep Christian faith.
“My identity is really not in baseball,” Shackelford said. “I’m just out here to glorify the Lord and play as hard as I can.”
Putting in a full nine-inning effort has never been a problem for Shackelford.
“The Lord calls us to serve him with heart, mind, soul and strength,” said Monte Brooks, Shackelford’s coach at The Master’s University. “Aaron has always done that.”
Brooks saw it for four seasons at The Master’s as Shackelford became the big man on campus.
His senior season stat line included a .415 batting average, 36 home runs and 99 RBIs. He was ranked first nationally in nine offensive categories by the time it was all said and done and his winning the NAIA national player of the year award was a no-brainer.
“Eye-popping, jaw-dropping,” Brooks said. “I think his last 29 at-bats, he had 15 hits and 11 of them were home runs. What he did was nothing short of amazing. Years like those are rare.”
Shackelford wasn’t a highly-touted prospect coming out of Murrieta Valley High School in Southern California, so he went to the college where two of his brothers had attended and where his dad had played baseball for one season.
“It’s a Christian school and that was a huge draw,” Shackelford said. “I got to study the Bible for four years which was awesome. From a baseball perspective it was awesome. From a spiritual perspective it was awesome. I got to meet my wife there as well.”
Aaron and Brooke got married on January 2 in San Diego after dating for two years.
“I always credit my senior year success to her and getting married,” Shackelford said.
The honeymoon has continued for Shackelford in pro baseball and it will be a sort of 2 ½ month vacation in Bristol for he and his bride as Aaron gets acclimated to life in the minor leagues.
“It’s definitely been an adjustment, just with the competition level,” Shackelford said. “At the NAIA level you had one a guy a weekend throwing 90 miles per hour-plus. Now everybody I’m facing is 92-plus with a good offspeed pitch. That’s the grind: every at-bat you have to be locked in. You have to constantly be locked in and I love that part of it. Every night is a new challenge.”