Published in The Bellingham Herald on Aug. 14, 2016

Being in a batter’s box, squaring up the next pitch, the sound of a wooden bat hitting a baseball – these are a few of Austin Shenton’s favorite things.

The Bellingham Bells outfielder used to spend hours each day at his local batting cage. For those who knew him, it was sometimes too many.

“My mom used to have to call me to come home,” he said with a laugh.

For Shenton, playing on a hometown Bells team seeking its second West Coast League championship in three years, the rewards are what the 18-year-old said he’s been chasing his entire life.

The Bells began a three-game series with the Corvallis Knights on Saturday night at Joe Martin Field, losing 4-0. Shenton did not play due to shoulder soreness and is day-to-day for the rest of the series.

Game 2 is Monday at 6:40 p.m. in Corvallis.

Shenton began playing YMCA T-ball when he was 5, moving on to play with Boys & Girls Club teams before playing third base and shortstop for Bellingham High School, where he graduated this spring.

Shenton was also selected by the Cleveland Indians in the 34th round of this year’s major-league draft. Initially called by the team between the fourth and fifth rounds, an inability to agree on contract specifics relegated him to a 34th-round pick, which Shenton declined.

“It’s exciting to get drafted, but definitely not where I wanted to be,” he said of the outcome.

Shenton is ranked the 167th best prospect in the nation by Perfect Game. He batted .280 in 31 regular-season games for the Bells, with 30 hits and six RBIs.

Playing for the Bells – a summertime team that gives collegiate players additional opportunity but no pay – has been both taxing and fun, Shenton said. The camaraderie of teammates has been great.

“When you do this much baseball in this short of a span, you kind of become a little family,” he said. “We’re together from 2, 3 o’clock to 10 o’clock during home games, and then we’re together 24/7 on the road. … So, it’s been fun just getting to know these new guys, getting to play for some good coaches, and getting to play in front of my hometown in Bellingham.”

Having played left field all season, Shenton said the challenge of playing in the outfield is more than just trying to catch a high-hit ball.

“The ball is, like, 240 feet away,” he said. “When it’s hit, you’ve got to react to it quick, and make a good read, and run a good route to get the baseball.”

Next year, Shenton will be playing baseball and attending classes at Bellevue College instead of his initial choice, the University of Washington.

“I think this gives me the most opportunity as far as what I want to do,” he said.

Attending Bellevue gives him the opportunity to be drafted again after only a year. At Washington, it would be three years before he’d be draft-eligible again. Shenton then has the opportunity to go back to Washington after his freshman season if he’s not drafted where he’d like to be.

Although he hopes to play in the majors, Shenton said the challenge of the game is what keeps him playing, no matter the competition level.

“You have to be able to grind through the challenge and the mental aspect of it,” he said. “It’s a tough game.”