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40 in 40: Shed Long

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Shed swiped right on baseball. Now, we wait for the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

MLB: Spring Training-Seattle Mariners at Oakland Athletics Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Sometime in the future it will be said of Shed Long that he was born to play baseball.

Some people are born to play baseball. Whether they enter into life swaddled by a baseball family, or grow up in an area where baseball is the Thing, circumstance and natural ability collide and becoming a ball player seems to be a foregone conclusion. That’s not the case with Shed, although there is a strong sense of predetermination in his path to baseball.

The game is often seen as patriarchal. It’s flooded with the classic story of baseball being passed from father to son, and even among women fans the catalyst is often a father’s fandom. For Shed, it was the dreams of his mother that propelled him toward baseball. He was born in the football hotbed of Alabama to a father who played college football and imagined his sons would follow that path. He didn’t grow up in circumstances that often produce baseball players. But while pregnant with him, his mother, Lisa Long, dreamed that he would be a major league baseball player. Literally. She woke up from a dream that her son was playing in the big leagues and told her husband. He scoffed a bit, knowing he’d push his son toward football.

Shed talks about realizing that baseball made the most sense as the sport for him to pursue because of his size. He is listed at 5’8”, although like many listed heights it has been speculated to be a bit of a stretch, and he may be a tad shorter. His Jacksonville Hall of Fame entry and Perfect Game profile both list him at 5’10” (and speaking as someone who grew 3 inches after high school, I can’t blame him for this aspirational thinking). Seattle sports fans know that height doesn’t necessarily preclude you from a sport. We begat Nate Robinson and Isaiah Thomas and became a home for Russell Wilson and the forever beloved Joey Cora (also clocking in at a listed height of 5’8”, and speculated to perhaps not quite stand that tall). No, Shed played many sports, and by all accounts, he played them well. There was just something special about baseball.

Early in high school, he decided to focus on baseball. It paid off when the Cincinnati Reds drafted him in the 12th round of the 2013 draft. He was drafted as a catcher, his main position in high school where he also pitched and played a little middle infield. Named as a starter on the Jacksonville High School baseball team his freshman year (That would be Jacksonville, ALABAMA, he’ll be quick to point out. So, putaway those Blake Bortles jokes. Ahem, MLB Pipeline.), he realized that baseball was his best chance at becoming a professional athlete. At the time, he was a lauded running back and cornerback in football and played point guard in basketball. After a long discussion with his father, Shed Long Sr., he decided to quit football and turn his attention to baseball.

Shed, known back home as Lil Shed, was a little peeved that the Reds took him so late in the draft. With the Mariners, Shed finds himself in a organization that sees him as part of their future. General Manager Jerry Dipoto tried several times to acquire him last season. Dipoto was finally successful this offseason when the Reds shipped him to the Yankees for Sonny Gray and the Yankees sent him to the Mariners for Josh Stowers.

The Mariners plan to take advantage of Long’s versatility as an athlete by having him play multiple positions. He has played second base most of his time in professional baseball and that will remain his primary position. As we’ve seen this spring, the team would like him to make himself useful at third base and in the outfield as well. This will make him more available to jump up to Seattle when the need arises. His offense is seen as being nearly major league ready, but his defense has lagged behind.

Now, if you ask Shed, he will bristle at the suggestion that he won’t do well defensively. He repeatedly mentioned that he’s an all-around player in an interview on ROOT during a game earlier this spring. He has been working with Cincinnati Reds Hall of Famer Barry Larkin on his defense. He’s also used to competition. He grew up competing against his older brother, also named Shed (bringing the grand total of Sheds in the Long house to 3), and playing baseball with his competitive father. He’s still got the chip on his shoulder from the Reds drafting him so late.

Despite his protestations, he’s viewed as a bat-first player, at least for now. A strong point is his ability to hit for power. This was first on display as a 1 year old when he hit his first home run, a plastic ball whacked with a plastic bat that flew over the fence of his day care.

He will be playing in AAA Tacoma this season, honing his defense and learning a few new positions. One step closer to the major leagues. One step closer to realizing the dream that has driven him through the years in the minors, that has helped him through the slumps and setbacks. He will be one step closer to realizing his mother’s dream.

*****

I have to take a break here to say that writing these 40 in 40s involves a deep look at the players. And while some are more narrative focused and some or more stats focused, they all involved really digging into a player. For me, I develop attachments to the players I write about. I enjoy learning their stories and seeing through their stats how they’ve developed. I start to see them less as baseball players and more as people, and I root for them to succeed because succeeding at baseball is their dream and their driving force, and not because of what they can do to help the Mariners win.

Shed is one of those players it’s impossible not to like and develop an attachment to. I know prospects have broken your heart before, so if you need to dig up some stats before you make up your mind, check out Matthew’s prospect profile on Shed Long. If you’re still hesitant about gifting your heart to, or you still aren’t ready to pick a favorite following the Great Purge of the 2018/2019 Offseason, I’d like to present a few reasons you may want to choose Shed:

1. Fun is the one thing that money can’t buy

Watching Shed play this spring has been like watching a kid play. There is a joyfulness in the way he approaches baseball. Reading his quotes and listening to interviews, a deep respect for the beauty of the game come through. But he also doesn’t take it so seriously that the joy is gone. He loves playing baseball and it shows in his approach. He has an energy out there on the field, something Scott Servais referred to as “an electric body.”

He’s a kid playing a kid’s game. You won’t be able to stop yourself from enjoying his joy.

2. His glasses game is on point (or whatever you kids say these days)

Shed Long is competing for a spot in the big leagues, sure, but he’s also competing for a shot to be named my favorite athlete to wear glasses (currently occupied by Morgan Hurd, obviously). He’s been wearing the white shades this spring:

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Glee!

A post shared by Shed Long (@slong895) on

But he had a great spectacles and bow-tie look in high school (while meeting Hank Aaron no less!):

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Me and Hank Aaron #Greatness

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And he’s also got the studious frames:

MLB

3. He loves the same players we love

He told ROOT during an in-game interview he was looking forward to playing with Mitch Haniger and asking him questions about hitting. He was excited to be on the same team as Ichiro, because he’s Ichiro. He was happy to play on the same team with Dee Gordon, someone he describes as like a big brother. Baseball prospects, they’re just like us!

4. He’s a podcast star

If you haven’t already, I must advise you to rush to your nearest podcast listening device and take in the Great American Dream. Put out by the Cincinnati Enquirer and hosted by C. Trent Rosecrans, it is a fascinating look at the journey through the minor league system, featuring Shed Long. It’s impossible to listen to this and not root for him.

*****

Baby Shed heart eyes emoji
The Cincinnati Enquirer/Sam Greene

Shed Long wasn’t born to play baseball. When he quit football, the community he lived in was football-mad and couldn’t understand why he would make that decision. His dad absorbed criticism and questions about that decision. Baseball was a fall back sport, not a primary sport. It was a sport to be played, but not a sport to worship.

I can’t imagine that anyone watching him play baseball now would ever question that he made the right decision.

Baseball chose him, and he chose baseball.

And we get to watch him play baseball.