BELOIT, WI - No sport delivers more ups and downs or provides more surprises for the individuals playing it than baseball. Over the course of a five or six month season, every player will go cold, every player will get hot. The patterns of each year seem to play out predictably. Aaron Shipman's 2013 campaign, however, proved to be especially meaningful. It was a season that saw him reach his potential on and off the field. Says Shipman: "I found myself as an individual as well as a baseball player."
Aaron Shipman is the son of Robert Shipman, who was a 10th round selection by the Detroit Tigers in the 1987 Amatuer Draft. An outfielder, Robert Shipman played in the minors for the Tigers and the Twins. Aaron set a goal for himself based on what his dad had accomplished. "I always wanted to get drafted higher than my dad," he said. "That was my goal growing up. He'd always talk about being a tenth rounder and how hard he worked." Aaron's dad was also there to help him every step of the way. "He was my coach all my life," said Shipman. "He's always pushed me to be better than he was, do more than he did. Me and my oldest brother, he's always been there to push us. Just having him around is a great influence and still is." Aaron's oldest brother is also named Robert Shipman, and he became a talented high school player at Brooks County High School in Georgia, the school both brothers attended. "We were always on the same team," said Aaron, "but [my brother] was always the guy. He was a big home run guy, bigger, stronger guy and I've always been a speed guy. We'd ask people 'Who do you think is better? Me or Robert?' We've always pushed each other." After Aaron's sophomore year, his brother moved on to play baseball at the University of Georgia. Soon after, the focus turned from older brother to younger brother.
During his junior year of high school, Aaron became the latest member of his family to receive attention for his exploits on the diamond. "My junior year of high school," he said, "I went to some of the Perfect Game showcases. I got invited to go to Minnesota to do a bigger showcase with all the top names. I did pretty well." It was while he was there that he gained the confidence of knowing he could compete with the best in the country. "I saw the top players and realized that I wasn't too far away from them," he said. "That's when I knew this was something I could do." Shipman soon would find out he wasn't the only one with that notion.
Despite all the attention and accolades he'd received as a junior, Shipman didn't have any visions of grandeur when his senior year began. "Going into my senior year," he said. "I had already committed to [play baseball at] Mercer and I just wanted to go to college. My [mindset] was to finish high school strong, academically, right into college. The draft wasn't really on my mind because I just wasn't hearing much about it. I wasn't getting a lot of attention from scouts." Early in his senior season is when the scouts started to show up. Very early. "It was actually my first practice," said Shipman. "My very first high school practice we had some scouts come and it was a little weird. I was thinking 'What are they here for?'" Mid-way through the season, Shipman found out why the scouts were showing up so often and exactly how highly thought of he was. "There was a point where I started having meetings," he said. "Scouts would schedule these meeting before and after practice so they could sit down and talk with the family. A little bit after mid-season, I had a Twins scout come to my house. I never knew exactly where [teams] were seeing me, but he said 'We're looking at you as our second round pick.' I was like 'Whoa!'"
Following a season in which he batted .525 and stole 38 bases, Shipman looked to the 2010 MLB Draft, where many teams had an interest in taking him. "That's one day I'll never forget," he said. "I was nervous. [I got] a lot of phone calls, [there was] a lot of negotiating." Even with such a fantastic opportunity in front of him, the young outfielder felt like he would be better off going to college. "I remember a scout sent me a text," said Shipman. "He asked me if I would sign if they gave me [a certain] amount of money. Right there it was like, if I text this guy back and they get it and call this pick in, I'm going to play. At that time, I didn't feel like I was ready to commit myself to playing pro ball so I said 'No, I'm going to go to school.'" This sentiment didn't stop one team from taking a chance on him, much to Aaron's surprise. "Most teams will call first and ask 'If we take you right now, will you sign?' I didn't hear anything from the A's, I just got taken," he said. "It just happened, which was cool. It's better to be surprised." Oakland selected Aaron in the third round, with the 92nd overall pick in the draft. Unfortunately, the joy of getting drafted was soon replaced by the monotony of a long negotiation.
Even after the draft, Mercer College remained a possible destination for Shipman, thanks in part to stalled talks with Oakland. "My main focus after getting drafted and seeing where the negotiations were going was school," he said. "I was tired of going back and forth and trying to get a deal done that everyone was happy with. I was content going to school." With the signing date looming, both sides eventually worked out a deal. The A's had their man and Aaron finally knew where he'd be going. "I remember the deadline," he said. "I signed on the last day. I did want to go to college, but there's always that thought in the back of your mind that you want to be a professional baseball player as soon as you can. When we finally got the deal done, it was like 'Alright, this is exactly what I wanted to do.'"
Aaron played only briefly in rookie ball in 2010, so his first real taste of professional baseball would be in 2011 with the Vermont Lake Monsters. His manager found himself working with a member of the Shipman family for the second time. "I had a lot of fun playing for Rick Magnante," said Shipman. "He was my dad's first manager [in pro ball]. I learned a lot from him." Shipman played in 63 games in Vermont and batted .254. He also stole 17 bases in 20 attempts. While the numbers weren't mind-blowing, it was a solid year for Oakland's young outfielder. "I would say Vermont was a very successful season for me," he said, "just because I got my feet wet, figured out some nuances on the hitting side and defensively. I feel like Vermont was a good step in a positive direction for me."
For his second full season, the Athletics felt it was time for Shipman to move up to A-ball. The season didn't go as well as anyone had hoped though. When the year ended, Aaron's average sat at just .206 and he had just a 50% success rate on steals. "We all know that baseball is a game of failure," said Shipman. "Some years, you're going to be the guy. Some years, you're going to struggle." Aaron's family helped him deal with what was a rough season. "My dad had his struggles playing minor league ball and he understands how hard it can be," he said. "Same thing with my brother. He's played in numerous places and against good competition. They both know what its like to struggle. Just having those guys to talk to and to keep supporting me, telling me this is where I need to be, this is where I belong, hearing that from those guys really kept me going and kept me positive."
When Aaron returned in 2013, he had a simple attitude. "My main goal was to have fun, regardless of what my numbers looked like," he said. "My mindset was that baseball is a game and I'm going to continue to play like it's a game because if you start viewing it as a job, you aren't going to perform. Games are supposed to be fun and when they stop being fun, that's usually when people stop playing them." Through April, however, this change didn't seem to be helping, as Shipman was hitting just .140 and suffered an injury that would sideline him for a while. At the time, this seemed like a difficult setback, as Aaron was sent to Arizona for rehab. His time there would turn out to be an experience that healed not only his body, but his mind and soul as well. "Arizona," he said, "was exactly where I needed to be."
While rehabbing at the A's spring training facilities, Shipman found himself with a lot of downtime. This gave him the chance to think about much more than just baseball. "I figured out myself as a human being," he said. "I grew up in the church and grew up as a religious person. I feel like anything and everything happens for a reason. I believe God has his hands on everything he wants to have his hands on. I believe he puts people in your life and puts you in places to be able to reach you. I feel like he couldn't reach me [in Beloit], but if he separated me and took me to a place where I could be alone, then I feel like he could reach me and talk to me and get me on track to where I need to be, not just on the baseball side." Shipman was also able to ask himself about his future in baseball. "I asked myself is this really what I want to do," he said. "I was struggling again. I wasn't having fun at the time even though I intended to." When he started playing again in Arizona, he stayed true to the ideal he'd set for himself before the year started. "I remember my first [rehab] game," he said. "I told myself, 'It's a game, have fun. You're going to get your hits, you're going to make outs, you're going to strikeout, you're going to popup, you're going to make errors. Its part of the game, just have fun.'"
When Shipman got on the field again in Arizona, he found himself feeling like a new player. "It started when I was in Arizona and I had my rehab stint," he said. "I was swinging the bat well." After hitting .421 in six games in the Arizona League, Shipman returned to Beloit and stayed hot. In July, he put up a .362 average with a .474 on-base percentage. "It's so much fun to be back,' he said. "I love it. We have a great staff, great players. I can't really ask for a better team." Shipman also finds himself on a team headed for the postseason . "I want to win this thing," he said. "I've been to the playoffs every year and been knocked out in the first round twice. This year, I want to make a run for it. We've got the team to do it. We're better than any team I've been on. I do believe we can make a run and win this and that's what I want to do."
The 2013 season has been a fruitful one for Aaron Shipman, not just as a player, but as an individual. "I've kind of put it all together," he said. "I've found the fun in the game. I've found myself as a true Christian. I've realized there are bigger things than baseball, than what we do on a daily basis. I feel like if you can continue to put God first, like the Bible says, he'll direct your path. I've put him first, continued to give him the glory for all the success and the failures that I've had. Whatever happens, as long as I'm having fun and he's getting the glory, it's all going to work out."