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A Shore thing ...

04/22/2015, 3:00pm CDT
By Ian Cohen, Alligator Staff Writer

Sophomore pitcher proving his worth


Blizzard's Shore in Vero Beach

Coon Rapids, Minnesota, is a bit hard to describe.

The winters are cold and quiet.

The spring and summers are warm, and the sound of baseball reverberates between the city limits.

About 60,000 people live on 23 square miles, an area roughly the size of Manhattan but with about four percent of the population.

"It’s kind of a small town but it’s not really," Florida sophomore Logan Shore says.

Shore’s standing in the first base dugout of UF’s McKethan Stadium, seeking refuge from the beating, blazing sun on a Thursday afternoon before baseball practice.

Sometimes he misses his hometown.

"There’s just nothing like the Midwest," he says.

In his second year, Florida’s ace epitomizes poise.

He’s evolved from the untested freshman All-American he was one year ago into UF’s featured Friday night pitcher — a role he assumed a week before the 2014 Southeastern Conference season began and never relinquished.

He knows what’s expected of him, he knows what he can achieve, and maybe most impressively, he knew he’d be here, even when others told him he wouldn’t.

***

Shore's story begins where most of them end: Omaha, Nebraska.

It’s a cool and breezy June afternoon, and after a few minutes of searching, Shore finally finds his seat among the thousands of blue bleachers that line TD Ameritrade Park.

The tickets his mom bought are tucked away in his pocket, and now all that’s left to do is watch baseball.

The scene is set: Florida vs. Vanderbilt, Alex Panteliodis vs. Sonny Gray, the 2011 College World Series.

He needs this. Less so for his love of baseball — which he unquestionably loves — but more so for his own reassurance.

Shore just finished his sophomore year at Coon Rapids High and was receiving letters from colleges — good colleges. SEC colleges. Letters from colleges that weren’t typically sent to kids in Coon Rapids, Shore says.

He always assumed he was good enough to play Division I baseball, and now it was happening.

Still, he had to see for himself.

"Mom," Shore said after a few innings watching Gray and Panteliodis battle on the mound. "I know I can play at this level. I just know I can."

And yet, he heard a lot of no’s.

No one from Coon Rapids can make it in the SEC.

You can't play with them.

No one will look at you.

"I don’t know if it was just people thinking that, you know, he may be good in Minnesota but you’re not gonna be able to compete against guys that are down south," Shore said. "I just use all that as motivation. You know, just try to prove them wrong."

So, Shore worked.

He made the USA 18 and under National Team in 2012.

The following season, he was named the Minnesota Gatorade Player of the Year after posting a 0.27 ERA without losing a game. Next came the MLB draft, where Shore’s hometown Minnesota Twins selected him in the 29th round.

Suddenly, the kid from Coon Rapids was getting looked at.

"Until then," Shore starts to say — his feet are firmly planted in Florida’s dugout, but his mind wanders back home, "it was almost like a dream."

***

It felt just like yesterday.

Perfect Game National Freshman of the year. SEC Freshman of the Year. All-American. His first year at Florida was unprecedented.

Shore grins.

"It’s crazy how fast time goes," he says.

At age 19, he led Florida’s pitching staff with a 2.16 ERA and seven wins. He struck out 68 batters, 17 more than any of his peers.

 

Was it his hometown doubters that fueled him? Those who ridiculed his first season playing in the south before it even began?

"You know, it definitely factored in," Shore said. "But once I got here, I was a lot more focused on helping the team, trying to be the best teammate I could be to everybody around me, trying to make everybody else better along with myself and just trying to win baseball games."

But his biggest motivation, he said, was getting back to the College World Series.

And this year, he thinks Florida can. After all, its offense is operating at a historic mark.

Forty-two games into its 55 game season, the Gators are averaging their second-highest batting average (.304) in 12 years and have more home runs (44) than the last two seasons combined.

"When everything is firing, this is a deadly lineup," outfielder Ryan Larson said. "I wouldn’t want to be a pitcher against them."

Of course, Larson means opposing pitchers. Florida’s arms are reaping the riches of the team’s offensive success, and Shore sits atop the gold mine.

Shore attributes his preparation to his teammates — on a weekly basis, he’s forced to face the nation’s No. 4 and No. 13 home run leaders in JJ Schwarz and Harrison Bader, respectively.

But UF’s batters claim that they’re the ones who have to face him.

"At the end of the day," Bader said of Shore, "he’s one of the best talents in the country. Without a doubt."

Even so, Shore’s first taste of the SEC as a sophomore starter was bitter. Through his first two games, Shore gave up seven runs and nine hits while striking out seven.

But the only stat he cares about is the win. And they lost both.

"I’ve never really been hit like that before," Shore said. "I think it was a wake-up call."

One week later, Shore turned his game around. In Florida’s 8-1 win against Alabama on March 27, the sophomore pitched a complete game, allowing one run while striking out a career-high eight batters.

"He answered everything that he needed to that day," coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. "He stepped up like a No. 1 guy is supposed to."

Three starts later, Shore tossed another complete game in a 6-3 win against Mississippi State. He allowed just six hits and struck out six batters on the road.

This season, Shore is second on the team in ERA (2.29) and is tied for first in wins (six), but the trust his teammates have in his abilities can’t be measured in any stat line.

"Every time he goes to the mound you think your team has a great chance to win," senior left-hander Bobby Poyner said. "I would argue that he’s one of the most competitive guys on our staff."

***

Back in Coon Rapids, the goal was simple.

"Dang," Shore used to think. "I wish I could be, I wanna be like one of them. One of those guys who have options to go play at schools."

Now, his goal may be less humble, but much more attainable than it was just a few years ago.

"Play in the big leagues," Shore said. "I mean, I think that’s a statement that’s probably pretty usual for guys if you ask anybody on our team."

It may be commonplace for his teammates, but less so for a teenager from Coon Rapids. And Shore knows it.

He mentions past players who have made it: Brad Hand, a Minnesota native who now pitches for the Miami Marlins.

He says there are a few guys here and there who were drafted out of Minnesota and went on to play in college, but they haven’t materialized into big league prospects yet.

Shore knows he can get there, despite what other people may say, and despite what he’s been told his entire baseball career before arriving at Florida.

"I do. I expect a lot out of myself," he said.

The expectations have always been high, ever since the recruitment letters he received in Coon Rapids and his first trip to Omaha.

That’s when he knew he would make it.

He got there once.

Come June, he’s planning a return.

Follow Ian Cohen on Twitter @icohenb

 
 

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