In the game of baseball, dedication is key. The love for the game often creates a fire in the heart of a baseball player. And although Hayden Shenefield’s journey has been far from mundane, that fire in his heart has never burned out.
Baseball has been a part of Shenefield’s life since the age of five. Although he dabbled in multiple sports, he always leaned toward the game and found himself on the field playing catch with his father.
“When I was a kid, my parents were open for me to try all sports. I remember going out to basketball, soccer, tennis, and even football. For some reason, I always gravitated back to baseball. Even from an early age, I knew this is what I wanted to stick with.” Shenefield said during a call with Dugout Dish.
Despite starting out as a middle infielder, Shenefield began pitching during his junior year of high school. “Toward the end of my junior year and into my senior year, I became the closer for my high school team. Put up good numbers, but still didn’t really get any looks.”
Getting into San Diego State University on academics alone, he knew the school had an excellent team and hoped to walk on with his talent. But life had other plans for Shenefield.
“My high school coach had put me in touch with the pitching coach at San Diego. We spoke – he said to come out, so I went and threw a great bullpen. The coach said he would give me a call in about a week.”
Excited over being told this by the coach, Shenefield waited to hear positive news. Instead, it was the opposite.
He continued, “I thought it would be great news, but pretty much within that week, he left San Diego State. At that point, I wasn’t really a preferential target with the staff. So I talked to the new pitching coach who had not seen me pitch and I was told they already had too many guys.”
He went back his sophomore year, junior year, and senior year to the open try-outs. Throwing a bullpen each year resulted in the same situation with being cut all four years.
He continued, “I kept on going back out because I would go home to L.A. and play in collegiate wood bat leagues. All my teammates were always like, come play on my team – I just really thought each year that I was getting better and I could make the team.”
After a conversation with a friend, Shenefield learned about duel enrollment during his senior year – attending one school and playing baseball at a community college.
“Pretty much I began calling community colleges in San Diego near my house. I didn’t have any connections, I did it all on my own. I called and said hey my name is Hayden and I would like to come pitch for you.”
After a few calls around town, Shenefield found his team at Grossmont College. A bullpen later, he found himself in the guidance office searching for classes.
“I came out of the pen initially. About a month into the season, our third starter either couldn’t make it to the game or was struggling and I was asked if I wanted to spot start. And I took that opportunity.”
Shenefield went on to have a complete game shutout with three hits, no walks, and 16 strikeouts. From then on, he became a starter for the rest of the season.
At Grossmont, he quickly established himself as one of the best in the Pacific Coast Conference. He posted an 8-0 record along with a dazzling 1.56 ERA in 24 games. In over 80.2 innings of work, Shenefield only allowed 53 hits, struck out 76, and only issued 24 walks.
With remarkable work in the CCCAA (California Community College Athletic Association) State Championship, Shenefield made two relief appearances sandwiched around a complete game shutout. In the championship final, he worked the final two innings on zero days rest to preserve his team’s 10-6 win and the school’s first ever CCCAA State Championship.
He went on to be selected as the 2017 State Championship Final MVP.
“I started getting calls after that, but the only thing was – they thought I was like a sophomore in JUCO.”
Shenefield continued his success by transferring to Cal State Northridge. “When Northridge came around, they were able to offer a full scholarship and I grew up about 20 minutes from campus. It was kind of a no-brainer. I moved back home to get my masters in sports management.”
In 26 games with three starts, Shenefield finished 3-2 with a 3.86 ERA, earning one save in the process. With over 32.2 innings of work, he allowed only 29 hits, struck out 35 while only issuing 11 walks. He was named to the All-Big West Conference Second Team for his performances.
“It was a big accomplishment for me to get that kind of recognition after everything I had been through.”
Despite his success, he went undrafted. “I was still only throwing 86-89 mph and that wasn’t going to get me noticed even with good numbers.”
He went on to pitch in the Northwoods League and pitched well in approximately 90 innings of work. “It was honestly a really good experience for me to play in the league.”
After returning home from that summer, Shenefield faced the reality of starting with his career or going all in with baseball.
“I went back home, started going to the gym a lot. Ended up putting on 20lbs of muscle. After three weeks of a weighted ball program, I was throwing easily 92-96 for 20 to 30 pitches. When I saw that, I knew I had an opportunity to possibly play pro-ball.”
Soon after, Shenefield signed his first professional contract with the Cleburne Railroaders in February 2019.
He began pitching for the American Association team and within the first month was used in the eighth and ninth inning. Despite doing well, his arm began to feel the affects of overuse. Soon Cleburne released him.
“My host family in Texas was great. They let me stay until I could figure out what I needed to do next. After making some calls, I was lucky enough to be offered a contract by the Windy City ThunderBolts.”
He continued, “I loved the organization. I didn’t put up the best numbers but it was a great experience. I just didn’t have my velocity that I had in the beginning of the year.”
Spending the off-season training, he looked forward to the 2020 season.
“With the help of Pitching Ninja, I was being looked at by the Cincinnati Reds before COVID. Pitching Ninja had retweeted one of my videos and they reached out. I was invited to a workout at their Arizona facility. My contact with the teams let me know they had to send everyone home due to coronavirus before I could get down there.”
Continuing his training on his own during quarantine, Shenefield was offered a contract with the New Jersey Jackals.
“I took the contract right away. Despite wanting to maybe stay back home and train, I figured it would be good to get some experience and put up numbers.”
In 14.0 innings pitched for the New Jersey Jackals, he has faced 51 batters with 213 total pitches. Shenefield has a record of 1-0, allowed 10 hits, four runs, four earned runs allowed, one walk, 22 strikeouts, a 2.57 ERA, .786 WHIP, and a .204 BAA.
Shenefield admits there were moments when he questioned his future in baseball. “After putting in all the work in the off-season and finding out that I was able to increase my velocity, it felt good. I had went in knowing if I didn’t do that, I would need to hang it up and start my career.”
And as far as advice to his younger self: “Live in the present. Have a focus on what you want to do from day one. In that whole transition between high school and college, I feel like I might not have had my goals in line. There will be obstacles along the way, but have a plan and put in the work or else you’ll regret it later.”
(Photo Credit: Billy Pinckney/@billy_the_batboys_corner)