by John Vittas
Originally Published for Terp Report (April 10, 2014)
It was only his fourth career start, but Maryland freshman Mike Shawaryn was already at the top of the college baseball world. Just minutes removed from stifling and defeating the nation’s number two team, Shawaryn looked through the Florida sunshine into the left field bleachers to find his parents, who had made the trip down to Tallahassee to witness their son’s crowning achievement. As you would expect, the Shawaryn contingent was all smiles, as was their budding superstar.
But as is the case in baseball, there are up and there are downs. The last two weeks for Shawaryn fall into the down category. After beginning his college career with five straight wins, including three against ranked opponents, Shawaryn has hit the proverbial wall.
The lineups of Clemson and Wake Forest dispatched Shawaryn early each of the past two weekends, roughing him up for nine runs in seven and two-thirds innings. While the stout ACC batting orders may have gotten to Shawaryn between the lines, his mental clarity remains in tact.
“The day after, you look back at it and realize it’s a real learning experience,” Shawaryn said. “I didn’t know I was going to have this much success this early and this is the first time I’ve really struggled at the college level. You have to make adjustments now, so that later in the season you don’t let those mistakes happen again.”
If the first five starts by the 19-year-old impressed you, it might be his response to the two most adverse that amaze onlookers.
“You have to be the same guy every day. Whatever happens on the field, leave it on the field. Especially as a pitcher, you’re the focal point of the whole game. If you get down or have bad body language, everyone is going to see that. Getting down on yourself is not going to help you get the next pitch over.”
While Shawaryn’s ability to manage failure may appear refined, he hasn’t had to do it very often. He won four Non-Public A state titles during his time at Gloucester Catholic in New Jersey, while also adding multiple All-American accolades and an American Legion World Series title to his resume. Perfect Game USA ranked him the No. 4 prospect in the state.
“He’s strong mentally,” sophomore catcher Kevin Martir said. “He’s the kind of kid who wants the ball. He’s the kind of kid who gets outs.”
“He has really good makeup, he doesn’t get messed up mentally,” Maryland head coach John Szefc said. “He can reset himself and get back in the zone quick. He’s pitched in big situations before he got here, he has a good feel for pitching in pressure situations and he’s the kind of kid who welcomes the pressure.”
Shawaryn’s drive to win has become infectious, as he, along with a group of accomplished freshman and sophomores have changed the mindset of a team that hasn’t had a winning record in the ACC since 1981.
The patriarch of that Shawaryn contingent, Michael Sr., played football at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania and always guided his son towards sports. The younger Shawaryn credits his family’s sports background for the winning mentality that has accompanied him to College Park.
“It helps you with determination and work ethic,” Shawaryn said. “When I was younger, I would just play all the sports. I think the biggest thing it really helped is my competitiveness and drive. And that is still instilled in me today, just the drive to get it done and get the W.”
Shawaryn’s blasé gait may disguise that drive, as he strolls around practice like any other pitcher, laid back and unassuming. But when it comes time to work, Shawaryn's coolness is replaced with a palpable pinpoint focus. He doesn’t mess around.
“As a person, you can just tell he was someone who takes care of business, worked hard and was always on task,” Terps’ senior ace Jake Stinnett said. “That was the first thing I noticed about him. He wanted to know exactly what he was doing that day, exactly what the practice plan was. He was here to work hard and really make an impact.”
That’s exactly what he’s done. While ripping off those five wins, Shawaryn posted a streak of 18 consecutive scoreless innings. Spanning almost three full starts, it was snapped in the eighth inning of that seminal victory in Tallahassee.
However, Shawaryn limited No. 2 Florida State to just that one run, thanks to a timely 5-2-3 double play that helped the freshman escape a bases loaded, late-inning jam.
It was at that point that Shawaryn let loose, jumping, yelling, fist pumping and glove-slapping his way to the dugout.
“I’m composed in between the lines, but after I step off the mound on those big types of plays, you can let a little emotion go,” Shawaryn said after the game. “It was a big play so I let loose a little bit there.”
It’s that same excitability and intensity that catches on with Shawaryn’s teammates and make his attitude contagious.
“Shawaryn is a funny kid,” Martir said. “He’s always having fun, he’s always smiling. He always puts a smile on everyone’s face.”
The mental balance that Shawaryn displays is what all baseball players yearn for. The ability to maintain the obsession to win while remaining even-keeled and positive sets him apart. The perfectionistic, competitive, never-satisfied mentality overrides everything, while Shawaryn puts careful thought into every decision he makes.
That includes the biggest decision he’s ever had to make, turning down professional money and other scholarships to come to Maryland.
“He was a tough nut to crack for a while,” coach Szefc said about the recruiting process. “He had a previous relationship with [pitching coach] Jim Belanger when he was at Monmouth. That’s what got us in the door with him. I think he was attracted to the business school here. He’s a really, really good student.”
Nothing seems more appropriate for Shawaryn than a degree in business. He has two valuable assets in his right arm and advanced mind, and it shouldn’t be hard to attract investors. Drafted in the 32nd round of the 2013 Major League Draft, Shawaryn turned down a contract offer from the Kansas City Royals.
“The reason I came back was just because I wanted 3-4 years with Coach Bellanger,” Shawaryn said. “He does a really good job with the pitching staff and really helping you develop. I thought that would be really helpful taking my game to the next level. He does a good job of editing footage and showing you what you did wrong.”
There will be plenty of footage to dissect from Shawaryn’s Clemson and Wake Forest starts, but after all, that’s why he is here.
“I think I’m just maturing with the game,” Shawaryn said. “I’m still young and there’s a lot more I need to know.”
Not eligible to be drafted again until 2016, Shawaryn has plenty of time to watch film with Coach Bellanger, and plenty of time to help turn the program around in the mean time.
“We want to come and play. We come out here and give our all,” Shawaryn said. “We’re all here to do something special and create a special program.”
Armed with that mantra, the Terrapins are off to a historically good start in 2014, and have a very real chance to break the school record in wins and snap a number of dubious losing streaks.
Senior Jake Stinnett and Shawaryn have proved to be a lethal 1-2 punch in the ACC. The senior Stinnett has been through it all: from being benched as a position player, to now earning first round grades as one of the best pro prospects in the country. They say it takes one to know one, and Stinnett sees potential in Shawaryn.
“It’s going to be a great year for him. I would not be surprised to see him be an All-ACC type of guy,” Stinnett said about Shawaryn. “He can do whatever he wants to do.”