GENEVA – Zack Shannon’s newly-issued No. 32 jersey means more than meets the eye.
Shannon, the Kane County Cougars first baseman, grew up a Cincinnati Reds fan. It's hardly a surprise. Shannon is a native of the Cincinnati suburb of Batavia, 24 miles east of the city.
Shannon recalls attending a Reds game as a six-year-old, attempting to hawk an autograph along the edges of the diamond as the likes of Ken Griffey Jr., Adam Dunn and others strolled on by into the outfield.
Former outfielder Josh Hamilton – wearing No. 32 – stopped.
“I remember Hamilton walking through and giving every single kid an autograph,” Shannon said prior to the Cougars final game against the Wisconsin TimberRattlers on July 29. “Ever since that day, he’s been an idol of mine.”
Over the Cougars' last 10 games heading into Monday, Shannon had 10 hits, two of them home runs, with the game-winning hit in a 6-5 win last Friday. Shannon went 3-for-4 with two RBIs Monday night during the Cougars 4-2 victory.
The Cougars (60-45, 25-11), who had a six-game win streak snapped on Sunday, sit in second place in the Midwest League's Western Division overall standings.
Shannon models his approach after his hometown hero.
“I try to [go] out of my way every day to treat the kids that come to the games [to that] because that was such an important thing to me when I was a little kid,” Shannon said.
Hamilton, a five-time All-Star, 2008 Home Run Derby champ and the 2010 American League MVP as a member of the Texas Rangers, wrote a personal memoir “Beyond Belief." In the book, Hamilton documented his own one-time rise and fall as a former No. 1 draft pick of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 1999, succumbing to substance abuse struggles and fighting to revive his MLB career.
“I think it’s the only book I’ve ever read cover-to-cover,” Shannon laughed.
“It left a huge impression on me,” Shannon continued. “It just shows you – no matter what life is, where it takes you and what decisions you make – it’s just about moving on to the next step...seeing things through and trusting the process.”
Shannon’s own winding road to Kane County has had its share of twists and turns.
In high school, Shannon originally committed to Ohio State for baseball. Due to issues with grades, Shannon instead attended Chipola College in Fla. for the first semester of freshman year as a pitcher in 2014. From there Shannon went on to the University of Cincinnati-Clermont the following spring.
“That, honestly, was one of my biggest moments of my career,” Shannon said. “My freshman year of college, I wasn’t really sure I still wanted to play baseball; just kind of lost my joy for it.”
His brief stop at UC-Clermont helped Shannon rediscover the spark he once had. It started with taking care of the field, playing with local players and more.
“It taught me to love baseball again,” Shannon said. “It taught me to enjoy showing up to the field every day. That was huge for me.”
Shannon then transferred to Wabash Valley Community College in Mt. Carmel, Illinois. That set the table for his final collegiate stop, Delta State University in Mississippi for Shannon's final two collegiate seasons.
At Delta State Shannon blossomed into one of the most feared hitters across Division II. In 110 career games, Shannon smashed 50 home runs, drove in 181 runs and batted .420. As a junior in 2017, the 6-foot-3, 230-pounder led all of Division II hitters in RBIs (93) and ranked third in RBI per game (1.63).
His draft-day moment, however, came amid difficult circumstances.
Shannon’s grandfather passed away a week before the 2018 MLB Amateur Draft. Shannon, who was visiting Texas with his younger brother and girlfriend, had to drive home for the funeral.
Shannon's agent called him to indicate his name would be called soon. Indeed, he later received the call from the Diamondbacks that he’d be their selection in the 15th round.
“I remember pulling off on the side of the highway,” Shannon said. “I think that was the first time in our entire lives that he’d seen me cry.”
The organization wanted him out for rookie minicamp the day after the funeral, which wouldn’t make his attendance at the funeral possible. Shannon called his family with the news.
“I turned around, went home, packed my bags, bought my brother a plane flight home," Shannon said, "...and then I flew out to Arizona like two days later.”