When Shawon Dunston Jr. was ready to start his professional baseball career, there was no reason for him to think he would ever encounter any problems.
He was a 2011 AFLAC All-American out of Valley Christian High School in San Jose, Calif., with the bloodlines to go along with the accolades. He is the son of former Cubs star shortstop Shawon Dunston.
The Cubs liked what they saw, selecting him in the 11th round in 2011. But when he was ready to make his professional debut in 2012, something odd happened.
“I experienced a little humble pie,” Dunston said. “I got embarrassed in Boise. First time I experienced failure.”
He suffered through a miserable 19-game stretch in short-season Class A Boise in 2012, hitting .185 with 14 strikeouts in only 65 at-bats. But last year, Dunston dusted himself off and rebounded with a solid season at Boise, hitting .290 with only 25 strikeouts in 193 at-bats, earning Northwest League All-Star honors.
Now, Dunston, an outfielder, is ready for his first full professional season with the Kane County Cougars, who kick off their season Thursday at Quad Cities.
“I know from the first time I saw him in instructional league (in 2011), it’s a huge improvement offensively,” said Cougars manager Mark Johnson, who was the manager at Boise for Dunston’s nightmarish 2012 campaign. “He’s really learning how to stay through the ball more. His overall game has improved every year. You root for the guys that get in there and really battle.”
Dunston’s improvement was multi-faceted. As far as the technical aspects of hitting, that was the first thing that needed to be overhauled when he ran into professional pitching.
“In high school, I just swung,” Dunston said. “Now, I have a plan. I know what I want to do at the plate.”
Physical growth was also part of the equation. He was 160 pounds when he was drafted. He says now he’s knocking on the door of 200 pounds. But the biggest improvement may have been mental.
“I was pretty immature my first year, I can tell you that,” Dunston said. “Not a day goes by that I don’t think about what happened that first year in Boise. It keeps me motivated still. I keep telling myself that I don’t want to go backwards like I did that first year. You can always control your attitude. You can’t control getting hits, but you can control your attitude. Maturity is a big part of this game. Attitude goes a long way. It can hurt you or help you.”
Dunston’s ultimate goal lies about 40 miles east of Fifth Third Bank Ballpark, the place that his father made his name, Wrigley Field. The elder Dunston is now the San Francisco Giants’ instant replay reviewer, and he relayed some final words of wisdom to his son before he took off for Geneva.
“He taught me everything I know about baseball, and life in general,” Dunston said.
“He told me to keep it simple. You’ll have your good days and bad days. Just remember where you came from and it will all work out for the best.”