By Bill Sorrell
Motivated by a coach who told him in the 8th grade that he would not amount to anything in baseball, Connor Shamblin was named Tennessee Mr. Baseball in Division 2-AA this season.
Completing his senior year at Briarcrest Christian School, Shamblin will enroll in July at the University of Alabama.
“That was one of my goals at the beginning of the year. Obviously I wanted to win the state championship No. 1 but to win Mr. Baseball shows how God can move in anyone’s life,” said Shamblin, “To win something like that means a lot, to be considered the best player in this division.
“I know the amount of work I have put in and to see it pay off that is a relief that I did not do all that to come up short. I accomplished my personal goals.”
While the 8th grade critique left some “hard times” along with “some bitterness that shouldn’t be there,” he moved on and moved a step closer to fulfilling the ultimate goal since childhood, playing in the Major Leagues.
“I don’t plan to stop until I get there,” said Shamblin, 18.
With the MLB draft June 4-6, Shamblin was watching.
“It is something you have got to pray about. I’m not really worried about it. I’m not focused on it right now.”
The team he is focusing on is Alabama, his “dream school since I was tiny as anything. I am a die-hard Alabama fan.”
Shamblin originally committed to Mississippi State. However it was a wake-up call and test as a true Alabama fan.
After two weeks he “couldn’t go away from Alabama. I have to go to Alabama. I love the coaches and everything.”
Born in Florence, when his father John Shamblin was pastor of First Baptist Church in Lexington, Alabama, he moved to Memphis when he was 2 after his father became pastor of Briarwood Baptist Church. John Shamblin is a graduate of Samford University.
He recently resigned at Briarwood and is Director of Seague Health Partners, a mission-based health care company that seeks to evangelize those recently discharged from nursing homes or hospitals.
“He does the spiritual side of it. The company gives all the profits to missions,” said Connor.
A fastball that hit 95 mph and with a slider, his favorite strikeout pitch, Shamblin
had 63 strikeouts in 53 innings.
“Everyone loves to strike out people,” he said. A right-hander, he had a 3-3 record in 10 starts giving up 8 earned runs with a 1.05 ERA.
He had a .430 batting average, 3 home runs, 13 doubles, 4 triples, 24 RBI, scored 35 runs, an on-base percentage of .558 and tied for a team-high 11 stolen bases.
“He is the best player on the field, the best pitcher, the best hitter,” said Briarcrest head baseball coach Craig Hopkins.
“He has got the pop, that middle-of-the-lineup hitter. He has really good power. He made drastic improvement this year in strikeouts and strike-zone discipline.. Last year he was a kind of all-or-nothing hitter where this year, it didn’t matter the count.
“His breaking ball is getting better and better. He has got a very good changeup that he didn’t use very much. In high school if you are hitting 95 mph, you don’t get to play your changeup very much. I told him that can be a weapon at the next level.”
His pitching increased 2 mph from his junior to senior seasons.
“He can play anywhere on the field. He is a really good outfielder with a cannon. He is faster than the looks. He is quick. I don’t know of a time when there was somebody else that was a better athlete or player. He is a really good infielder with really good footwork.”
Shamblin, who also plays third base and short stop, is the first Mr. Baseball Hopkins has coached in his three years at Briarcrest.
“It means the world. It means we are doing things the right way and we have got some talented players in our program. Connor is well-deserving of it.”
Hopkins expects Shamblin, who was Briarcrest’s 2018 Male Athlete of the Year, “to shine” at Alabama. “He is going to dominate people on the mound. It may not happen immediately but will before it is all said and done. You can’t teach 95 mph. Once he commands all his pitches, he is going to be a special player.”
Braircrest center fielder Chase Martin, who will play at Austin Peay next season, said, “Connor will be a star at Alabama his first year, mark my words. He works way too hard and he loves the game too much to not stand out.”
Briarcrest outfielder Hudson Clark, who just graduated and will attend Tennessee, said, “Connor has one of the greatest arms in the state, being able to shut teams down, as well as producing at the plate. It is awesome to have Mr. Baseball on our team because we know good he is.
“We have seen it throughout his entire career. This make it even better getting the credit he deserves for his work and performance. He has a great work ethic. He will practice for hours even if no one else is there to make sure he is as good as possible.”
Martin learned from Shamblin no matter how much success you have , never stop working.
“There is no excuse to not be getting better at something each day. Connor brought a positive attitude and a level of competitiveness that was unmatched by opponents and inspiring to fellow teammates.”
With a 4.22 grade-point average, Shamblin said that baseball is as much mental as physical.
“It’s an intellectual game,” he said.
Shamblin said that he could have done better to help the Saints (19-16) win a state championship and blamed himself for giving up too many walks that may have cost games.
“It’s hard to see us come up short when I know what we are capable of,” he said.
Briarcrest’s season ended against eventual state champion Chattanooga Baylor.
Shamblin’s biggest thrill was hitting a walkoff, ninth inning grand slam in an elimination game against St. Benedict for a 10-9 win on May 10. The Saints were down 9-2.
Playing summer baseball with Joe Caruso’s East Coast Select team in Memphis, Shamblin began getting interest from colleges the summer before his sophomore year.
“I realized I could play at this level when all these colleges were telling me that. That is when I realized I have a gift from God to play baseball. That was probably the first and major turning point in my baseball career.
“I feel like God wants me to be a baseball player. If that is what He calls me to do then I will be the best baseball player I can be.”
Shamblin’s youth pastor Ben Cowell at Germantown Baptist Church told him baseball could be his platform.
“I try to use my platform for God. If His light shines on you, if you have all these eyes on you, what do you want to be known for? Do you want to be known for your career or spiritual walk with Jesus like Tim Tebow,” said Shamblin.
Shamblin was an all-state nominee and played in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl All-Star game as a senior.
Briarcrest head football coach Brian Stewart said, “God has given him the ability to be a great athlete. You have to shine where you are standing. That is what he does. He has that platform to stand upon that he can use to stand for Christ. That is the main thing for Connor.”
Said Shamblin, “Baseball is second nature. It comes naturally to me. Baseball is just a sport. That is what I try to tell myself every day. One of my struggles is making baseball an idol. My dad has taught me not to make baseball my idol. I have to strive to put God first in everything that I do. What is really important to me is putting God first, then baseball.
“I always try and not be like the world. You’ve got to be different from the world. You can’t blend in at all. It’s so easy to blind in. When I catch myself doing it, I step back and focus on ‘What am I here on earth to do?’ It’s not to play baseball. It’s not to live a good life. It is to live for the Lord and please Him.
“He ultimately is the one who gets the glory in everything that I do. Jesus is No. 1 in my life. It is awesome to see what He can do in someone like me. He could use anyone for baseball and He chose me. I am thankful.
“If you say you are a Christian that is the hard part. It’s living the right way in front of everyone because you have more people watching you. Being a Christian is probably the hardest thing anyone can do. The Bible says that the gates are narrow to get to heaven (Matthew 7:13). If it was easy, everyone would be a Christian.
“If you are like the world, how are you shining your light in any way? I have people saying they see me different from anyone else on the field. They see me happy, They see my Christian faith but they don’t know that is my Christian faith. They see that I am having fun and playing and not dealing with all the stress. God’s sovereignty in my life is what ultimately drives me.”
He is aware of the amount of eyes on him and number of people focusing on him.
There may be more pressure on him as a preacher’s kid he said to do the right thing but he wants to please God.
The Oprah Winfrey Show was on television when Shamblin was 8. He and his mother were watching as Oprah interviewed a man who was about to die. Connor began asking his mother Beth questions, wondering what happens at death.
“I was like I need to get saved. I am a sinner. That was the first moment that I actually learned that I was a sinner and I needed Jesus in my life. When I got saved that was the most critical moment of my life. That was the greatest moment of my life. I am a sinner. I need Jesus. There is nothing else that I need except Jesus.
“When my mom was talking to me, she was able to answer all my questions. She wanted my Dad’s experience to lead me. When I got saved my Dad made sure that I was real with it and I was ready and I was. He ultimately led me to Christ, both of them pouring into my life so much. I can’t be thankful to them enough for it.
“God’s grace has been most evident in my life. Salvation is number one. That is his ultimate grace.”
Stewart said, “In this day and time seeing young men who truly wear their faith is always impressive. He has been that way since I have known him. I have always been impressed by his family. Connor is a great kid, that all starts at home. You tip your hat to mom and dad and as an individual in a tremendous environment growing up, it became his own. It’s genuine.”
Priorities, Shamblin prays and reads the Bible daily. He is learning patience through God’s Word.
His favorite verse is Isaiah 40:8, “The grass withers and the flowers fall but the word of our God stands forever.”
Martin and Shamblin prayed before football games.
“It’s always a nice time to reflect and thank God in everything He has allowed us to accomplish. Connor leads more by example spiritually. If he messes up you will not hear a curse word,” said Martin.
Clark said, “You can see his faith in action through his sportsmanship and relationship with teammates. He never talks bad about anyone or talks trash to other teams but lets his play do the talking. He is encouraging to teammates and pushing them to their best which shows his leadership and helps the overall mood of the team to be more positive.”
Hopkins said, “You could see him leading spiritually every day and praying and talking to other guys. He has the best character.”
Said Stewart, “He always tried to do the right thing even as a younger kid. That isn’t very popular. That is hard sometimes and I told him that you are going to be persecuted for it and you will be made fun of but understand that God needs warriors and Connor is a warrior and a solider of Christ. That is what the world needs.”
His parents and older brother Tyler are role models.
“He has been a big role model for my life,” he said, adding he has helped him become a better Christian.
Tyler, 21, attends Mississippi College.
“He wanted to go to Alabama his whole life. He he grew up an Alabama fan. He has loved Mississippi College every minute,” said Connor. “He is ridiculously smart. He is a finance major. He will succeed in whatever he does.”
Tyler played football for the Choctaws his freshman year and secondary at Briarcest. When Stewart was coaching baseball Tyler made a first-inning diving catch in the state championship game that Stewart called “unbelievable, one of the top plays of the year.”
Connor called Stewart, Hopkins and other coaches “great Christian influences. They are all amazing. I couldn’t ask for any better coaches. Joe Caruso put Jesus first in all of his teams.”
Hopkins was a catcher at the University of Memphis from 1997-2000 playing for his uncle Jeff Hopkins, a dedicated Christian.
“I loved it. The knowledge I gained during those four years, you couldn’t find anywhere else,” said Craig Hopkins, adding his first goal of coaching has nothing to do with baseball.
“It is to continue what we do at the school, to lead them toward Christ, to make sure we are walking the walk that we talk about and to turn them from boys to young men. That is my favorite part of this position. You want them to become good men, good fathers, good husbands and good people in general and that they will put the Lord first. That is my most important thing. Connor will be all those things.”
Before the season ended, Hopkins told seniors not to shy away from telling people their story of the Lord.
Talking with older Christians has helped Shamblin learn what they have gone through and not make “the same mistakes they did.”
The number of people Shamblin met through Briarwood was “incredible” he said.
His spiritual goal is to lead someone to Christ. “I have the right material to do it. I have got to build up the nerve and not be timid.”
Shamblin (6-1, 200) was never timid on the gridiron. The quarterback of the defense, he loved to make a big hit said Stewart.
“He is so physical he could be a Division 1 college football player if he wanted to be. He is a phenomenal athlete.”
All-region from his sophomore to senior seasons, Shamblin made 68 tackles his senior year and 20 assisted tackles, two interceptions, one for a touchdown.
“He was a guy we could roll down from a safety position if we needed to and put in the box to help us make tackles. He could do it from the free safety position, just an instinctive kid that gets to the football. You want 11 to run to the football. He was the No. 1 out of the 11,” said Stewart, citing size, strength, speed and his ability to understand coverage changes. Shamblin studied film.
Briarcrest quarterback Jackson Walker, who will be a senior this fall, said “He was a great leader for the defense, always knowing where to go and helping everyone around him. He was a great leader to our young secondary and he was never afraid to come down hill and make the tackle.”
When Shamblin made a big hit he liked to dance.
“He’s got the ability to put on a little show after a big hit or big play but that is just passion and enthusiasm,” said Stewart. “You would a lot rather be trying to calm down a kid than get him going. He loves to compete.”
Laughingly Walker said, “He dance moves need some work.”
Shamblin, who plans to major in management at Alabama and would like to set a world record in sky diving one day, has been a Perfect Game All-American, all-region in baseball as well as Best of the Preps and Heart of a Saint Award winner.
“Alabama has got a great guy in Connor Shamblin,” said Stewart. “I want him to be able to go there and be one of their guys. He is a young man who can do big, big things. The sky is the limit for him.”