Selected by the Rays in the first round of the 2012 Draft out of Clemson University, Richie Shaffer looked right at home after making the jump from college ball to the Minor Leagues.
The 21-year-old slugged four homers and drove in 26 runs in 33 games for short-season Hudson Valley before completing his long year with 15 games in the Arizona Fall League.
A first baseman in his first two years in college, the Charlotte, N.C., native moved across to the hot corner this season. Though he hopes to stay at third base, he said he's happy to switch positions if it helps the organization now or in the future.
MiLB.com spoke with Shaffer about the transition to pro ball, hitting a ball out of Dodger Stadium as a high schooler and the day Cal Ripken's consecutive games streak came to an end.
MiLB.com: Looking back at when you were a kid, what are some of your earliest baseball memories?
Richie Shaffer: Growing up, I just played local rec baseball, the Cal Ripken League, Babe Ruth baseball, stuff like that. Then I started playing in middle school and high school and just kept going. I remember my first glove. It was a "Black Magic." They definitely don't make them anymore; I'm pretty sure it was a Wilson glove. It was a big, old, sloppy black glove, I remember that. When you start playing and get your first bat, your first glove, it's an exciting experience. It's something you remember for a long time, for sure.
MiLB.com: How about your first Major League game? Do you remember whom you saw?
Shaffer: Yeah, actually. Funny story about that. My favorite player of all time is Cal Ripken Jr. I finally got to go watch him play one time. I just so happened to go to the first game [in 16 years] that Cal Ripken Jr. didn't start. I was just devastated.
In right field [in Baltimore], where they have the little scoreboard, back in the day they used to put the lineups there. I'm walking across the terrace with my grandmother and I hear the lineup over the loudspeaker. "Now the starting lineups for your Baltimore Orioles, blah, blah." He's going through, then, "Playing third base ... " and he said a name I didn't recognize. I was like, "What? Why didn't he say Cal?" I walked to an angle where I could see this scoreboard and I see third base and it didn't say Ripken up there.
I forget the guy's name. (Ed. note: The date was Sept. 20, 1998, and the player who played third base was Ryan Minor.) I was so confused, I didn't know what was going on. Then I put two and two together and realized he wasn't playing. I was crushed. It was the first game I had ever been to.
MiLB.com: Did you try to emulate Ripken and incorporate parts of his game into yours?
Shaffer: I've worn No. 8 pretty much my whole life because of Cal. That's just something I grew up doing. I started at a young age with that and I've tried to keep it going as much as I can. It's a little more difficult when you get into professional baseball. You kinda get given a number. But whenever I can, I try to keep eight in there somewhere -- when I can't get it straight up, either 18 or 28. Having an eight in there is something I've always connected with.
But as far as my game goes, something that Ripken accomplished is one of the most incredible things in all of sports, not just baseball. He had that mentality of going out and playing hard every single day, regardless of how he felt or whether he was nicked up or banged up or not feeling great one day. He didn't take anything for granted and he realized he was blessed to play the game. That's the type of mentality I try to hold on to.
MiLB.com: You had an opportunity to play in the Cape Cod League while you were at Clemson. What did you take from that?
Shaffer: It was a great experience. It was one of the first opportunities you have as an amateur to really get a feel for facing good competition with a wooden bat. You play every day, so that's the same type of mentality as professional baseball. In college, you have a couple days off in between; in the Cape, you play every single day.
It starts to create the mentality of being able to come to the field ready to play every single day. It's basically a very controlled, very simple version of Minor League Baseball, to try and help guys in college get their feet wet. Not necessarily to help them know what to expect, because it's definitely a whole different beast when you start playing professional baseball, but just to get an idea to help you start preparing for some of the challenges that await.
MiLB.com: What was your best moment playing in the Cape?
Shaffer: I think winning the home run derby at Fenway [Park] was pretty awesome. They do it every year and I was fortunate enough to be asked to compete in it and I ended up winning. It was a pretty cool day. I hit six home runs and you have eight outs apiece. One round. It was pretty cool.
MiLB.com: What did it feel like to clear the fences in a big league ballpark?
Shaffer: That was pretty cool, but it actually wasn't the first time I'd ever done it. I was in a home run derby in high school for the Aflac All-American Game at Dodger Stadium and I hit a couple out of there. So that was the first time and that was pretty cool, for sure. It was a pretty cool experience, realizing that a 16- or 17-year-old kid -- I forget how old I was -- can play in a stadium where all these big leaguers play.
MiLB.com: And your first homer in pro ball? Do you remember that game against Vermont?
Shaffer: I was in Hudson Valley when I first started out. I'd played a couple games and I had hit a couple warning track balls that were pretty close but that didn't get out. When I finally got that first one, it was a pretty cool feeling.
But at the end of the day, you realize it's just the same game you've been playing all the time and the same thing you've been doing your whole life. It's cool and you have a nice little smile about it, then you keep going about your business. It's nice to get that first one of your career out of the way and past you, then you can look back on it and remember it and enjoy it.
MiLB.com: You have a natural connection with the Dodgers, who picked you in the 2009 Draft. Why did you decide not to go pro at that time?
Shaffer: A whole lot of things went into that decision. I wasn't sure at that time if I was mentally or physically ready to accept the challenges that Minor League Baseball and the Minor League lifestyle presented. That's something that a lot of guys don't really think about. Not necessarily just the baseball that's difficult, but playing in the Minor Leagues is a difficult life.
You're on the road a lot and you're in foreign places to you and you're away from home all the time. As a young kid, I wasn't 100 percent sure I was ready, plus I had a really strong commitment to Clemson. I was excited to go there and I really wanted to get an education. I didn't regret anything I did and I would do it all over again if I had to. But it was still cool hearing my name called when I was listening on the computer. It was pretty neat, but I had a pretty good idea I was going to go to school.
MiLB.com: Was there ever a concern you'd get hurt at Clemson or that you wouldn't perform well and maybe get overlooked at the next Draft?
Shaffer: Not really. To me, if I was going to get hurt in college, I was going to get hurt in the Minors. Then if I got hurt in the Minors, I'd have to go back to school and do all that stuff over again. You can't think about those what-ifs when you're making decisions like that. You just have to go with what your gut tells you to do or what your heart tells you to do.
You have to let things play out as they may because you never know what's going to happen. I could have gone to school and underperformed, and who knows where I would be right now. But you can always go and overachieve and be someone that maybe draws a little bit more attention than the first time around. And that's what happened to me.
I was talked about being a decently high Draft pick out of high school, but I don't know if I was in the same category as where I got picked out of college. I think that has a lot to do with the way I matured and grew as a person and as a player while I was at school in a controlled environment. The college route is not for everyone, but it was a great decision for me.
MiLB.com: When the Rays took you, you waited until the final few hours to sign. What conversations were you having with the team and with your family?
Shaffer: There was just normal negotiations. Because they moved the deadline up, you're technically talking about a month shorter than normal negotiations would have taken had it been a different Draft. A lot of guys coming out of college go down to the Aug. 15 deadline and mine ended up being July 15.
Both myself and the Rays organization wanted to make sure we were getting the best deal for both parties and that both sides were completely satisfied with the terms that were in play. And I think it ended up turning out great. I don't think either side could have been more happy.
MiLB.com: You got a $1.7 million signing bonus, which is a life-changing amount of money. Have you made any big purchases?
Shaffer: I haven't yet. It definitely is an absolute blessing and it's life-changing, for sure. But I'll try and be as conservative as possible. I know that when your mind says you have all this money now, you can be more lenient with it. But I'm a bit more of a conservative type of guy and I'm not going to go out and spend all of this money.
I'd like to get a nice car sooner or later, but I can't pull the trigger on anything yet. I'll treat myself to something halfway decent, but I've already started investing a lot of my money and start planning for the future?
MiLB.com: Do you have a dream car in mind?
Shaffer: I have plenty of dream cars, but I don't think anything that I'm going to be getting anytime soon. Hopefully in a few years, if I continue to work hard and things play out for me and I get an opportunity to play in the Major Leagues and make that type of money, maybe I can think about getting my dream car. But right now I'm just thinking about getting something that is logical and that is still nice and that I can enjoy as my first car and have my first real ownership over something.
Everyone has dream cars like Lamborghinis and Ferraris and sick cards like that, but that's not a logical purchase right now. I'll just get something reasonable and logical and something I can enjoy and consider my own.
MiLB.com: If you do get the opportunity to make it to the Majors, do you think it will be as a third baseman?
Shaffer: That's a good question. Personally, I want to play third base, but my obligation is to do whatever this organization needs me to do to help out. If there's an opportunity or an avenue in which I can progress faster at a different position, then I'm obviously open to doing whatever. At the end of the day, the main goal is to reach the Major Leagues, not necessarily to reach the Major Leagues at the position you want to reach it at.
If they need me to play first or they say that will get me to the Major Leagues quicker, that's what I'll do. If they say, 'We'll stick you in the outfield and you have a good chance of shooting straight up if you do that," I'll do that. But if all things are even and there were no differences, I work hard every single day at third base to try and become the best defender I can over there and that's where I'd like to be. But they aren't really my decisions to make. I just turn up to the field and play where they tell me to play.
MiLB.com: You played 33 games in Hudson Valley in the New York-Penn League this summer? How would you evaluate your performance?
Shaffer: I liked it a lot. It was definitely a really good experience. The Hudson area is a great area for baseball. We averaged like 4,000 or 4,500 fans every game, and I didn't expect that in short-season A-ball. It was a great area and we had a great staff and a great group of guys and stuff.
Competition-wise, there are a lot of good players in the Penn League who are very talented but a little raw or a little rough around the edges right now but have tons of talent. It was a good league. It was a good challenge for me to switch my mentality from the college ranks into the professional game. It was a great stepping stone for me.
I got a chance to compete in a playoff atmosphere and we ended up winning the Penn League title, so you get a chance to get a taste of what playoff baseball is like in professional baseball. It established a sense of a winning mentality throughout the organization and I know that is something they are trying to do throughout the ranks with us. I think I grew as a player and I'm excited to take those experiences and move on to wherever it is that I start next year.
MiLB.com: Going from Clemson to Hudson Valley and then to the AFL, it sounds like you had a long season?
Shaffer: Yeah, it's definitely been a long year, for sure. I've been going nonstop since basically January. Jan. 10 or Jan. 15 was our first day of winter workouts at Clemson. I've been nonstop all year long. I had a little break of about a month while I was waiting to sign. I finished strong in Arizona, but now I'm ready for a cooldown.
The body is good. I'm feeling good and even though I had a long year, I didn't play 140 straight games like other guys did around here. I was playing in college, where you had a couple days in between. It still takes its toll, but physically it doesn't take the same kind of toll of playing a full, grueling Minor League season, where you're playing every single day and there's no rest or no escape from that.
MiLB.com: When you get time to relax, how do you spend your downtime?
Shaffer: I just like hanging out. I like video games and hanging out with my brother. He plays football at Appalachian State, so I like to throw the football with him a lot. In Charlotte, it gets chilly, but it's not usually freezing cold, so I like to joke around outside and hang out and grill. We eat steaks and that kind of thing. Nothing crazy, just hanging out.
MiLB.com: Do you have any special talents that fans would be surprised to know about?
Shaffer: I was known to put on a pretty good karaoke performance in Clemson, but besides that, that's all I've got.