Giants

Down on the Farm: Dunston Jr. aims to go from bat boy to outfielder for Giants

Down on the Farm: Dunston Jr. aims to go from bat boy to outfielder for Giants

As the child of a famous athlete, it’s easier said than done to make a name for yourself. Owning the same exact name as that person — in this case Shawon Dunston, the No. 1 pick in the 1982 MLB Draft — the stakes are even higher. 

"When I was younger that definitely took a toll on me," Shawon Dunston Jr., 24, said in an exclusive phone interview with CSNBayArea.com. "If I went 4-for-4 people would say 'Well your dad played so you should go 4-for-4' and if I went 0-for-4 it would be like, 'Your dad played and you're not even good.'" 

Dunston Jr. paved his path on the diamond starring at Valley Christian High School in San Jose. The speedy outfielder originally committed to college baseball powerhouse Vanderbilt University, but the Chicago Cubs selected Dunston Jr. in the 11th round of the 2011 MLB Draft — and he elected to go the pro route. A mere twenty-nine years earlier, the Cubs took the elder Dunston with the top pick in the '82 draft. 

Once Dunston Jr. reached pro ball, all the noise about his dad was put to rest. 

"I know how to tune that out. I love my dad. I look at my dad as dad first, not the ballplayer," said Dunston Jr. "Now I just worry about what I have to do. My dad did what he had to do and that's that." 

The senior Dunston knew it wouldn't be easy for his son. No matter what his son did on the field, people would talk but his message was simple — be yourself. 

"He said honestly you're in a lose-lose situation. If you do well they're going to say that you should just do well and if you don't do well they'll get too surprised," said Dunston Jr. "He just said honestly to do what you have to do, play hard, work hard, good things will happen and don't take the game for granted. Guys are gonna come after you because of who you are so just be ready for that and I've always put that in the back of my head."

In order for Dunston Jr. to continue to grow outside of the shadow of his famous father, it has become clear that his health is just as important as his stats. This was an early lesson after finding his way to the disabled list three times in the past two seasons. Ten games into the 2015 season, Dunston Jr. went down with a shoulder injury that sidelined him for two months. Then he suffered a strained hamstring just two games after his return.. He played only 24 games that year.

In 2016, his season came to a halt on July 14 in West Virginia due to a freak accident. Going for a ball in center field, he tore multiple ligaments in his ankle. The injury ended his season and required six months of rehab. 

"Mentally it was draining, but injuries are a part of the game and you have to deal with it. I mean you can't cry about it. It is what it is and now I'm just glad I'm fully back 100-percent healthy and I'm trying to stay that way,"

The season-ending ankle injury was especially frustrating as it came with a new franchise, the same one he grew up rooting for and ran around the field with his dad during the 2002 World Series. On June 8, 2016, the Cubs traded Dunston Jr. to the Giants after four-and-a-half years in Chicago's farm system. After hearing the news from his coaches in Lynchburg, Virginina, he called his parents — and the emotions set in. 

"At first I was kind of in shock a little bit, didn't know what to think or do," Dunston Jr. remembers. "It was weird because the Cubs were the only thing I knew growing up since I was 18 with the organization that drafted me. That's all I knew, that's all I'd been around.”

He went through about a two-week adjustment period with his new team, but then it was back to the game he has been around since Day 1.

"After that it was just baseball and I said I'm with a new team and it's a fresh start. It's still the same game. You're gonna hit the ball, throw, run. So after that I got my mind right and said let's get at it."

And get at it he did. In the 24 games he played with the Single-A Augusta GreenJackets, Dunston Jr. hit .284 with a .348 on-base percentage and .407 slugging percentage, increasing his numbers across the board. Some adjustments were made after learning from new coaches. But more than anything, the biggest change to his game was getting the consistent at-bats he needed -- until he went down. 

“The only thing that was frustrating was that I got hurt, because I think I was figuring things out little by little."

The first real Giants memories for Dunston Jr. came in 2001 when his father began his third stint in San Francisco to end his career.

“Memories, honestly, probably 2001, 2002 seeing Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent, Rich Aurilia and J.T. Snow, all those guys,” said Dunston Jr. “I remember it like it was yesterday being in the dugout, being the bat boy, especially in the [2002] World Series. My dad's last year, seeing that team, those are probably the first memories of the Giants growing up in the Bay Area.” 

Any team that drafted Dunston Jr. would be making a dream come true and the Cubs made that happen in 2011. The fact he is a part of the Giants now though, is a reality he never believed possible. 

“Before the draft you just wanna be drafted by any team, but yeah, I always wanted to play for the Giants,” says Dunston Jr. “It's pretty surreal going through the minor leagues with the team that I grew up watching and I'm just waiting for my time to come in San Francisco. Until then, I'll continue to work hard in the minor leagues.” 

The younger Dunston has proven to be his own player on the field while moving away from the shadow of his father. Now, to go from bat boy to outfielder in San Francisco, Dunston Jr. hopes for health first over anything else to show off his skillset and climb the minor league ladder.

Seven Giants prospects who could reach major leagues in 2019 season

Seven Giants prospects who could reach major leagues in 2019 season

The Giants' 2019 roster is still full of veterans the fans have watched for years. Look around and you'll see the likes of Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner, Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, Joe Panik and more. 

But there's a youth revolution that's taking shape with an improved farm system. 

The San Jose Giants will be the most prospect-loaded team in the system with Joey Bart leading the way, though there's still plenty of names to know that are more major-league ready.

Some names on this list made their MLB debuts in 2018, while others would reach the milestone this season. 

VIEW THE GALLERY HERE

Giants have plenty of questions to answer after Larry Baer suspension

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USATSI

Giants have plenty of questions to answer after Larry Baer suspension

SAN FRANCISCO -- There have been subtle signs of change. 

Staci Slaughter, a Giants vice president, kicked off a presentation to the media last Friday and talked about the moves the organization has made. Rob Dean, part of the family that owns a large percentage of the Giants, welcomed everyone to the Play Ball Lunch on Monday. Later that day, VP Alfonso Felder stood and examined the field after a storm hit Oracle Park.

A year ago, all of those spots likely would have been taken by Larry Baer. It'll be more than three months before he's back in that position, but even then there will be uncertainty. Baer on Tuesday morning was suspended without pay until July 2 by Major League Baseball over a public incident with his wife, Pam.

In separate statements, Baer and the Giants' board of directors complied with the move.

"The Commissioner has imposed what we believe to be appropriate disciplinary measures and we will work with Major League Baseball and Mr. Baer to ensure that all aspects of the disciplinary program are completed," the Giants said in a statement attributed to their board.

The baseball will go on, of course, starting Tuesday night at Oracle Park. The Giants have operated normally since Baer took a leave of absence on March 4. It's impossible to know what's truly going on behind the scenes, but team officials say everything is running smoothly, and the baseball operations department certainly is humming.

That's where this might most be noticed by fans long term. Baer has been a key part of every major push the Giants have made in free agency, and a few days before the incident with his wife, he flew to Las Vegas with Farhan Zaidi to meet with Bryce Harper. It's hard to see that being the case with the next marquee target, but Zaidi, in the aftermath of Baer's decision to step away, said he did not expect the situation to impede his immediate work in any way.

Baer hand-picked Zaidi, but the new president of baseball operations currently reports directly to the board of directors. He met with the board during the interview process.

"Larry did a great job of kind of making sure I'd had some direct contact with them and had relationships there," Zaidi said earlier this month. "We don't necessarily have another Harper situation imminent or brewing that's going to require real active involvement from the board, but as decisions need to be made, we have a really strong infrastructure in place."

Zaidi already had complete control of the Giants' roster, with the notable exceptions being a player like Harper, who would have required a significant commitment from ownership. Perhaps at some point Zaidi will have to tell someone on the board that Madison Bumgarner trade talks have picked up, or something similar, but for now the focus is on building the roster, and he has been as busy as any MLB executive in recent weeks.

For future years, there are question marks, though.

The Giants still are trying to determine whether Zaidi will report to Baer after July 1 or continue to work directly underneath the board. In their statement Tuesday, the Giants said they will make changes to the governance structure and designate a new control person.

That means Baer, who will return as CEO and president, no longer will attend MLB's ownership meetings and similar events. Per a source, the organization still has not determined if Baer, upon his return, will report to a new boss. In the past, he was a representative of ownership, and all aspects of the organization funneled through Baer. 

Dean will serve as the interim control person as decisions are made, and he appears to be a heavy favorite to take that role long term if he wants it. The son-in-law of former majority owner Sue Burns, Dean gave an impressive and heartfelt speech at the Play Ball Lunch on Monday, and there are some within the organization who view him as their next leader.

That will be determined over the next three months, and the next two weeks will be telling. 

[RELATED: Giants CEO Larry Baer suspended by MLB without pay through July 1]

With Baer ordered to stay away, at least one of the club's vice presidents will represent the team in San Diego for Thursday's opener. Baer was a regular at Giants-Dodgers games, sitting a few rows back of the plate near the visiting dugout. Will someone from the ownership group or board be at Dodger Stadium on Monday?

Then there's the April 5 home opener. That usually has been a time for Baer to give a speech and help kick off the season, but it's unclear at the moment how the Giants will handle that ceremony and all future occasions where Baer always was an on-field presence.

For over a decade, Baer and Bruce Bochy have been the voices of management, but this is an organization with a new direction in baseball operations and a new manager on the way. Over the next three months, we'll find out if the shake-up extends to ownership, too.