By Matt Noonan
Noontime Sports had the privilege to talk with Rockland Boulders relief pitcher and former Wheaton College (MA) standout, Jon Shepard about his Minor League baseball career, as well as his dreams and aspirations.
On being able to play Minor League Baseball: “Right now, it feels incredible. Pretty much growing up, I never [really] had the right opportunities [or knew] the right people and then having a little bit of luck out of college, I could jump into [the CanAm League] and this is pretty much my foot in the door and I love the fact that it’s on me now. Everyone knows, if you’re good enough, they’ll find you and I’m on this stage [and] I have that opportunity to display everything I learned at Wheaton [College] or throughout life and it’s just the absolute opportunity I wanted and like I said, I’m loving life [and I] get to be a boy this summer and this whole experience I wouldn’t trade for anything.”
On what you learned from Wheaton College/How have you applied it to your career: “The one thing I could take away [from my college playing days] was my approach and respect for the game. Wheaton, [Eric] Podbelski, [who is the head coach of Wheaton’s varsity baseball team], players [and] all the guys who came before me, came with me, learned exactly how to respect the game and how to understand on a good day, I’m not [at] my best [and] on a bad day, I’m not at my worst, [which] really helped me understand how to turn the page real quick and go after each pitch [by attacking batters] and being aggressive, which I lost that at the beginning of the [current] season. I was more timid and had a hard time really being the aggressor, where now being the aggressor is paying off substantially.”
On connection with certain player/What have you learned from them: “Eddie Lantigua, [who plays for the New York State Federals] is an independent baseball [legend] and [he’s] made the 40-man roster for the [Los Angles] Dodgers and [Cleveland] Indians, he’s taught me so much about how to appreciate the game [and] it seemed like someone who had his success and seeing his passion for the game come out [is] astonishing. It made me find the absolute love of the game. [Also] there are so many famous guys [in the league] like Tim Raines Jr. on Newark [and] it was awesome facing him and striking him out.”
On the overall competition of the CanAm League: “Everybody in this league has experience and it’s pretty cool learning things from all [the various players] and just being caught up in it and seeing all the kids in the stands, [who] ask for the autographs, helped me appreciate [the game more]. I remember exactly being [a young boy] being like, oh boy that’d be awesome to be out there on the field and now I get to do that and I’m taking every moment in and not taking anything for granted.”
On his childhood MLB hero: “Ken Griffey Jr. because he was a kid. He loved the game; he was so dominant and fun to watch. [He] was always smiling [and] it looked like he actually appreciated the game and it’s definitely hands down Griffey and then after that, [Jon] Lester. I love Lester, how he approaches the game [and] how he is his worst critic, where I feel like I am the same way with myself and how he overcame so much [when he battled cancer a few seasons ago].”
On his biggest role model: “What motivates me is having the opportunity to do what I love and being paid for it. There’s nothing better than that and my [mom] obviously [motivates] me so much. Having [my mother] for support [is the best feeling] because obviously every [mother] wants to see their kid happy and I know I’m happy playing, win or lose, having this opportunity and not taking anything for granted and being able to show her that all those times she dragged [herself] out of bed at five in the morning to [drive me to my double-headers] or all the time that she put in. It’s nice to kind of give back and show her that I appreciate it more than anything and obviously with my head accident and growing up and the situations that I had, having [people around me doubt me], not to sound like LeBron James, it actually helps having all those people [who doubted men] because even the worse things you take the best from and you let it push you and make you better rather than put you down.”