Lessons learned gets Shafer to The Show

Justin Shafer

The lessons were learned in the backyard, the son of a high school football coaching legend.

And on Highlander Hill, before maybe 75 or 100 baseball fans, and at Legion Field, on Friday Nights before bigger football crowds there.

But nothing like Yankee Stadium, where Lake Wales native Justin Shafer made his Major League Baseball debut Sunday afternoon for the Toronto Blue Jays, the team that drafted him in the eighth round and have stuck with him, since 2014.

Those lessons were as much about things like perseverance and preparation as they were X's and O's because those were the things, really, that got him to The Show.

For several seasons, Shafer's numbers were at best non-descript, and at worst, the blueprint for simply giving up the dream.

In his first full season of High A baseball, Shafter was actually pretty awful at Dunedin in the Florida State League. His ERA in just 22 innings was over eight. By his second season there, his ERA had improved, a little, to a still decidedly unimpressive 5.23 in over 115 innings pitcher.

At a career crossroads, something clicked in 2017 that had Shafer finally on the right track. He was so good, in fact, that the Blue Jays promoted him three times, from Dunedin all the way to AAA ball with the Buffalo Bisons. His perseverance was finally paying off, his ERA for 71 innings of relief work at all three minor league levels at a suddenly eye-catching 2.90.

This year, he was even better, with an ERA of 1.17 at AA New Hampshire and Buffalo. Even though his home stadium was only 90 minutes from Toronto's Rogers Center, Shafter was in suburban Atlanta when he got the news late Saturday.

“I didn’t get much sleep (Saturday night), just tossing and turning,” the Lake Wales High School grad, now 25, told the Toronto Sun. I tried to sleep on the plane, couldn’t sleep on the plane either.”

His first batter, Yankee rookie hotshot Glyber Torres. He struck him out on six pitches in an up and down inning of work, not giving up a run.

He was a three-year starter at quarterback for the Highlanders under his Dad, Rod, who is now the head football coach at Warner University.

“I was pretty excited to be able to call my dad tell him. He was surprisingly calm. I thought he’d be a little more emotional. Maybe he held it in,” Justin added.

He ultimately decided that his best bet at being a pro was in baseball, after attending the University of Florida before being drafted by Toronto.

“I contemplated trying to do both in college. But the more I thought about it, the more unrealistic I thought it would be. College is hard enough and trying to invest as much time as needed in both sports would be even tougher.”

Another lesson well learned.

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