Shillingburg cut from an amazing Centennial mold

Baseball: With his great arm and strong bat, the Eagles' catcher stands out, but that's part of the tradition at his school.

High Schools

May 09, 2004|By Rick Belz | Rick Belz,SUN STAFF

Dan Shillingburg is a baseball perfectionist.

"I either want to do it right or I don't want to do it," said the Centennial catcher. "I love baseball and take a lot of pride in it, and want to take my game to the next level."

He's also an individualist.

"I don't try to emulate any major leaguers," he said. "I just try to be myself and create my own style."

That combination of perfectionism and individualism is the reason he cringes a bit every time someone mentions the name of a former Centennial catching great, Matt Deuchler, who was drafted last June by the Chicago White Sox.

It seems he can't escape Deuchler's shadow.

Shillingburg was at a baseball camp last fall at Deuchler's former college, James Madison, and was wearing a Centennial T-shirt when people started coming up to him and talking about Deuchler.

"I haven't stopped hearing about Deuchler for the last three years," Shillingburg said. "My biology teacher talks about him. My math teacher talks about him. It's frustrating sometimes, because every time I do something right, they say he did it better."

Like a true perfectionist, Shillingburg tries to create something positive out of the sometimes unflattering comparisons.

"It motivates me to a certain extent," he said. "It's something to shoot for. Maybe they'll talk about me someday like they talk about him."

Centennial's catching heritage is rich way beyond Deuchler, however.

It encompasses eight former All-Howard County performers - Jay Hamel, Joe Petty, Jeff Boyd, Brent Nickles (Clemson, UMBC) and Joey D'Alonzo (Maryland) from the 1980s, and John Loden, Jason Babcock (Virginia Tech) and Deuchler from the 1990s.

Deuchler is currently playing in extended spring training in Tucson, Ariz., and is slated to play short-season advanced rookie ball in Great Falls, Mont., later this year.

"With the exception of a few years, Centennial has always had a catcher of All-County caliber," said former Eagles coach Ron Martin. "It's hard to figure out just why the school has been so fortunate."

Shillingburg said he never saw Deuchler play and was unaware of Centennial's catching lineage.

But he does now hope to become the ninth member of that Centennial catching All-County list. Based on his season to date, he has little to worry about on that score.

His ability to throw rockets to second base discourages most would-be base stealers. Only six runners have stolen a base on him all season, and two of those were on a delayed steal.

And the 6-foot, 185-pound clean-up batter is hitting .411 with 13 RBIs, a .538 on-base average, two doubles and a home run - a grand slam against Oakland Mills.

"He's the class of the county behind the plate," said Hammond coach Mike Lerner. "He not only throws well, but blocks the plate well."

He credits his improved hitting to his offseason work at Frozen Ropes, a baseball and softball indoor training facility in Glen Burnie.

"I have a membership and spent a lot of time there for the last three to four years," said Shillingburg, who will play for the Frozen Ropes Braves team this summer.

Among his best defensive memories was throwing out Glenelg's Tim Siders last season. Siders, one of the fastest players in the county, stole 28 bases a year ago.

Shillingburg began catching at age 12 in the Howard County Youth Program on a travel team.

"I like catching because you can call the pitches and have an impact on every play and you get to throw people out," he said.

He stopped playing football at Centennial after his sophomore year to focus on baseball, a sport his father also played.

""It's rare to get a catcher of this caliber," said Ahearn, a second-year coach who also was not fully aware of Centennial's incredible catching history. "He's the biggest luxury I have right now. He's consistent offensively and, defensively, is highly coachable and has a great attitude. He instilled a work ethic in some of our younger players by working out with them all winter."

Shillingburg's only negative is a lack of speed on the bases - a familiar trait among catchers.

"I usually sub for him on the bases because he's our catcher, but he actually has great base-running instincts," said Ahearn.

Shillingburg is a National Honor Society member with a weighted 3.8 GPA and a 1,430 SAT. "I'd like to play at a competitive Division I school," he said.

If Centennial catching history is any indication, he may get his wish.

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