The “International Star” for April 2016 is American Left-Handed-Pitcher / OF / DH / Head Coach – Jack Shannon of the Cologne Cardinals in the German Bundesliga North (First League). Jack has played for the International Stars program since Prague Baseball Week 2014 and truly represents what it means to be an “International Star.”
The San Diego product has taken his game global playing for teams in Australia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Switzerland, Italy, and now Germany. Jack earned “Star of the Month” status by going 3-1 with a microscopic 0.60 E.R.A as a starting pitcher to begin the season with Cologne as Player-Coach. In 30 Innings Pitched he gave up only 2 Earned Runs, walking 14 and giving up only 17 hits while striking out 46 batters! His best performance was against Bonn, one of the top teams in Europe, pitching a complete game shutout with 15 strikeouts. And it’s not just on the mound – Jack hit .333 with 3 walks, 1 stolen base, 3 Runs Batted In and 1 Home Run for the month as well. ALL of this while maintaining his duties as Head Coach. Needless to say, it’s been a great month for this International Star!
Jack will be joining the International Stars for Prague Baseball Week in June 2016 for the 3rd consecutive year and we had a chance to ask him some questions about his international baseball adventure. Click on the “Read More” link below:
Boomer Baseball International (BBI): Where did you go grow up and play baseball at in college?
Jack Shannon (JS): I grew up in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, California, which is 20 minutes north of downtown San Diego. Cardiff is a beach community and premier surfing spot in Southern California and my friends and I grew up playing baseball and surfing. Out of high school I signed with the University of Oregon and spent a year with the Ducks in their inaugural season and redshirted. My sophomore year I transferred to Grossmont Community College in San Diego and played one season with the Griffins. After Grossmont I transferred to the University of San Diego and spent three glorious years with the Toreros. While at USD we went to the NCAA Regionals twice, won a West Coast Conference Championship, had 15 Toreros get drafted, and had the pleasure of playing with and watching Kris Bryant destroy college pitching for three seasons.
BBI: How did you first find out about playing baseball internationally and what made you want to do it?
JS: Brad Marcelino the USD hitting coach played for the Great Britain National team and spent a few years playing internationally in Australia and Europe. He approached Lucas Hagberg and I during our senior year and told us that if we didn’t get drafted that we had to play overseas. He told us amazing stories of his experiences playing abroad and from the moment on we had our sights set on playing overseas.
BBI: Where are the places that you’ve played?
Perth, Western Australia (Melville Braves Baseball Club)
Olomouc, Czech Republic (Skokani Olomouc)
Jánossomorja, Hungary (Jánossomorja Rascals) *Playoffs Only*
Basel, Switzerland (Therwil Flyers)
Reggio Emilia, Italy (Reggio Emilia All-Stars) *Post-Season Tournament*
Internationals Stars. Prague Baseball Week 2014, 2015 Finkstonball 2015
Cologne, Germany (Cologne Cardinals)
BBI: How would you compare the baseball level and overall experiences in those different places?
JS: This is the most common and difficult question that people ask me about playing abroad. To be honest every experience I have had has been a pleasant one. Each place has been very unique and I’m always blown away by the cultural differences and beliefs. The top teams in every league I have played in have been good. The level of play in Italy was impressive and when the Australian State League teams were full strength with Perth Heat (ABL) players, they were just as good. Germany and the Czech Republic are very competitive and growing leagues and I only see them getting better. Switzerland in my opinion is underrated and also growing as well.
BBI: And how is playing ball in Europe different from playing back in the U.S.?
JS: There are so many differences between playing in Europe and playing in the States. From the fields you play on, the gear, the fans, the food, and the atmosphere. For example, I’ll never forget playing at Draci Brno when there was a circus next to the field. During our game the circus elephant was hanging over the right field railing watching our game, it was amazing. One of my favorites is when the European church bells chime during practice or games. It’s so foreign for me to be on a baseball field and here century old church bells being chimed but so common in Europe, plus you never forget what time it is. My best piece of advice for first year players would be to have zero or limited expectations and be completely open minded because you can only go up from there
BBI: What’s the hardest thing you’ve had to encounter about playing baseball internationally?
JS: The language barrier is very difficult to deal with, luckily coaching baseball can be very visual but lack of communication is hindering. Also, with the majority of the guys on the team being amateurs with jobs and families it can get frustrating trying to push and motivate them when baseball is not their number one priority.
BBI: This year you are player-coach – something not unusual in European baseball but very unique for baseball in the U.S., how would you describe that experience?
JS: Being a player-coach has been a great experience but not without challenges. Instead of showing up to practice or a game and just focusing on preparing yourself, I have to focus on twenty players, write lineups, coordinate pre-game, argue with umpires, and simultaneously get myself ready to play. There is a lot of multi-tasking taking place but each week gets easier and I can’t deny that I like the power.
BBI: You’ve also been a 2-way (Pitcher and Hitter) in your European career, something that has become unusual in the U.S. game but not in Europe – how is it possible to be successful at both when those opportunities are very limited in the U.S.?
JS: European teams don’t have the depth that American teams do so being a two-way player is common in Europe. For an import being a two-way player is incredibly valuable and helpful for international teams. With so much time to practice and train why not do both? My Australian coach threw me into the fire and put a bat in my hands, it was rough at first but I kept at it and got better every week. I would have to say that being a two-way guy has made me better as a hitter and pitcher. My pitch selection is pretty good and I think like a hitter when I’m pitching to try and guess what the hitter is thinking. It also helps me not focus too much on hitting or pitching so when the time comes to take an at-bat or warm up for a start I am more relaxed, plus its way more fun to do both.
BBI: Do you have a pre-game routine to help you prepare for games as a player or as a manger? What about music, anything you like to listen to before you pitch or hit?
JS: The night before I always make pasta with either sausage or chicken and at least three vegetables and red sauce. I bought a Stim Machine for $35 dollars two years ago and I warm my shoulder up the night before and morning of. I’ll stretch out with Thera bands in the morning and roll out. My pre-game music of choice is currently Tropical House, so Kygo and Thomas Jack are frequent plays. I always have two sandwiches packed, bananas, and something sweat. As a manager I write the lineups the day before, set the batting practice groups and think of a motivational mini-speech to say to my team to try and get them fired up.
BBI: What’s your favorite place you’ve traveled to – off the field, and why?
JS: Tough question, but I would have to say Istanbul, Turkey. I was blown away by the history and the significance, Napoleon once said “if the Earth were a single state, Istanbul would be it’s capital” and after going there you see why he said that.
BBI: You’ve also played for the International Stars program multiple times and now coming back for a 3rd straight year at Prague Baseball Week at the end of June… What has that experience been like for you and what are you looking most forward to in doing it for the 3rd time?
JS: Playing for the [International] Stars is awesome; to summarize it’s a culmination of everything that is good about playing baseball overseas. Our team is comprised of guys from around the world, with different backgrounds and stories but come together for one week for one common goal. The baseball is good, the partying is legendary, and the memories are forever. I’m looking forward to the next crop of International Stars, playing with fellow Torero Max MacNabb, regaining the championship from the Czechs, and enjoying another awesome week in Prague.
BBI: Who were your favorite baseball players as a kid?
JS: My favorite pitchers growing up were Jake Peavy and Barry Zito. My family had San Diego Padre season tickets and we didn’t miss a Jake Peavy start. He was an animal on the mound, competing every pitch, painting the corners, and armed with a wipe out slider. I tried to model my pitching after Zito, I was never able to throw Zito’s famous 12-6 curve but I worked hard to develop my slider because I saw how effective a nasty breaking ball from the left side can be. Position player wise, Tony Gwynn and Barry Bonds were my guys. Tony made hitting look like a walk in the park and Barry just seemed like he was playing against amateurs every time he was on the field.
BBI: Are there any coaches or players out there that have been instrumental in helping your game or reach your goals in baseball?
JS: The foundation of my pitching can be attributed to my private pitching Coach Dominic Johnson. He taught me how to pitch and most importantly believed in me, which in my opinion is just as important as teaching mechanics. Even though my parents never coached me or played with me they always supported my baseball career and without their support I would never be in the position that I am in.
BBI: Finally, can you give some advice for the kids?
JS: My advice to the next generation would be to play hard and have fun. Playing hard and having fun to me means hustling, showing up to practice, working on the side, and being a team player. Also, don’t let a coach specialize oneself to early. If you want to pitch, catch, and play outfield go for it and work at it until someone rips the catchers gear and outfield glove away from you.
BBI: We would like to thank Jack for taking the time to answer our questions. We wish him the best of luck for the remainder of the 2016 season!