Matt Shaw’s childhood home in Brimfield, Massachusetts, rests on about 90 acres of fields and wooded areas. Most of the land goes unused, save for a neighboring farmer’s cattle, which the Shaw family lets roam around the open terrain.
But before the tree line begins and far from where cows wander, there is a dirt baseball infield. Three bases, a plate and a mound sit on it to create a baseball diamond for Shaw and his brothers to play on.
The diamond turned the Shaws’ backyard into a baseball hub for friends and family in their rural town. Shaw’s father, James, once dreamed of playing professional baseball himself. When he came up short of those lofty goals, his focus shifted to teaching his three sons about the sport he loved. He built the diamond as part of that plan.
On that field, Shaw discovered his love for baseball. It’s also where his father’s ambitions quickly became his.
“I always loved the game, but [the field] is definitely part of the reason why I was always around the game, always doing it,” Shaw said. “I never really felt like I didn’t love it.”
Those aspirations guided Shaw to College Park, where he quickly became a star for the Terps. The shortstop led Maryland to three consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, but the Terps failed to advance out of a regional in their first two attempts.
They’ll have another try this weekend as the No. 2 seed in the Winston-Salem Regional, looking for their first super regional appearance in eight years.
Shaw is balancing that short-term objective with his long-term dreams. As a potential first-round selection in this summer’s Major League Baseball draft, a pro career awaits him. His father never made it this far, but Shaw family’s dream that has spanned two generations could soon be fulfilled.
His father’s homemade diamond was one of the first places Shaw displayed a fierce competitive spirit, which guided him to reach baseball’s highest level.
In last month’s battle against Minnesota, Shaw stewed in the Maryland dugout as his team trailed by three runs. He was due to bat soon – an opportunity he refused to waste.
“I’m not gonna let us lose this game,” Maryland coach Rob Vaughn remembered his shortstop saying.
Shaw’s game-tying home run soon followed, sparking the Terps’ comeback victory.
The junior has slugged 52 long balls in his three-year collegiate career, more than any other Maryland player in history. Shaw is now just three homers away from setting a new single-season program best. He was also named Big Ten Player of the Year after hitting .347 with a team-high 44 extra-base hits.
“He’s probably, when it’s all said and done, going to be the best player to ever walk through here,” Vaughn said earlier this season.
Those accomplishments are the latest in a long list of accolades that began even before Shaw left Massachusetts.
When Jim McNamara, Worcester Academy’s former baseball coach, learned Shaw wanted to transfer to the school for his junior year, he met with soccer coach James Proctor. Shaw was interested in playing both soccer and baseball at Worcester. McNamara knew what Shaw would bring to the diamond, so he urged Proctor to leave a spot for him on the boys soccer roster.
“We got this stud baseball player coming in, but he really wants to play soccer,” McNamara told Proctor. “Do you have a spot for him?”
“I’m doing a favor for you,” Proctor responded. “I’m gonna take this kid.”
The move proved fruitful for Proctor. Shaw, a midfielder, was voted team MVP his senior season on a squad that featured six other upperclassmen committed to play Division I soccer. Shaw led the team to a 20-1-1 record and the New England Class A Prep School championship game.
Even with Worcester playing for its first soccer title, Shaw had baseball on his mind. The morning of the school’s biggest soccer game in years, Shaw met McNamara at a batting cage.
The decision to focus on baseball didn’t matter. Worcester topped its opponent in a penalty shootout to claim the school’s first boys soccer championship.
“That goes to show, one, he’s an incredible athlete,” McNamara said. “He’s an incredible competitor, and he’s not going to let distractions keep him from achieving his ultimate goal of being a big leaguer.”
Shaw also led the baseball team to a school record 16 wins in his junior season.
Mike Lyon, who was Shaw’s travel baseball coach from age 10, is still close with the Maryland shortstop. When Shaw returns home in the offseason, they train together.
During their training sessions, Lyon tosses pitch after pitch to Shaw. When his bucket of balls runs dry, the coach begins collecting them and prepares to leave. But Lyon is stopped almost every time as Shaw works to extend their session. The pair cycles through the same activity each time they reunite, with Lyon’s endless bucket refills and Shaw’s pleas to continue working on his swing.
“It’s that obsession with trying to get it right,” Lyon said.
Lyon saw Shaw develop as a player better than anyone. He grew from a preteen who relied on sheer athleticism into a polished hitter by the time he reached high school.
Shaw knew those improvements were necessary to reach the level of talent he’s achieved.
“It’s almost impossible to teach that competitiveness, that want, that desire,” Lyon said. “That’s just something you’re either born with, or maybe it develops early in your life.”
A reserved and calm demeanor hides Shaw’s fiery passion. He displayed it when he predicted his game-tying home run last month and throughout high school has dominated New England opponents in multiple sports.
Shaw’s internal compass points him toward a single goal he has sought for much of his life: professional baseball. That compass has allowed the shortstop to stand out from other players around him.
“Some people are just wired differently,” Maryland baseball’s associate head coach Matt Swope said.
Baseball has brought the Shaw family together in a way nothing else could.
Shaw wears No. 6 for the Terps — a nod to his older brother, Sam, who wore the same number growing up.
Shaw’s parents would also arrive at their youngest son’s high school games early to cheer him on and bring snacks for the team to share.
“Baseball has … been able to bring everybody together,” Shaw’s mother, Chris, said. “Matt’s always pulled everybody together somehow. He just had a way about him that just connected everybody. He still does.”
The Shaw family’s support knows no limits. His parents have frequented College Park to watch Shaw star for the Terps and joined the team in Omaha, Nebraska, last week for the Big Ten Tournament. There, they watched the Terps clinch their first conference tournament championship in team history.
Sharing baseball experiences has helped Shaw grow closer to his family members, even ones the shortstop was not previously close with, he said.
“It’s forced everyone to get together in a lot of ways and spend more time together,” Shaw said. “You can’t really see that coming until it happens.”
The family will get another chance to watch Shaw this weekend as Maryland looks to emerge victorious at the Winston-Salem Regional. After the competition, Shaw will move forward toward his goal of a successful professional baseball career — an ambition that stems from his father’s passion for baseball and Shaw’s own lifetime of dedication.
“It’s something we talk about a lot,” Shaw said. “Being able to experience all this and have [my dad] be such a fan has been a really cool experience.”
James Shaw never played professionally, but his love for the sport eventually resulted in the homemade field in his backyard. There, a star was born, as was an inseparable bond between a father and son chasing the same dream.