Douglas preaches hard work to all-star teams|[07/06/07]

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 6, 2007

The turning point in a 19-year baseball career for Shea Douglas came when he was 12 years old, playing in the Culkin Baseball League.

The former Southern Miss star pitcher, who went on to pitch for four seasons in the Cleveland Indians’ organization, gave the 10-year-old Cal Ripken All-Stars a glimpse into his baseball career as the featured speaker at the state tournament banquet Thursday night at Bovina Baptist Church.

&#8220I started playing baseball at age 6 but it wasn’t until I was 10 when I became decent and I made my first all-star team. It was also the first year I hit a home run over the fence,” Douglas said.

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&#8220The turning point, though, came when I was 12. I was the top-rated player in the Culkin League. I had a lot of power, but during that season, I struck out at least twice every game. It was terrible. We only played 15 or 16 games back then, but I still couldn’t hit in the game. That summer changed my life. I became a practicing machine.”

Working with his dad, Douglas told his young audience of the time spent working on his hitting.

&#8220Every day, whiffle ball. So many swings, that I’d get blisters and it would bleed. But I knew hard work was the only way I was going to get better,” Douglas said.

When he came back as a 13-year-old, Douglas dominated.

&#8220It was such a good year, they put me on the 14-year-old all-star team. But I still wanted to develop and get better.”

Enter Sam Temple.

When Douglas got to high school at Warren Central, Temple, now the coach at Hinds Community College, made him into an even better player.

&#8220Coach Temple was young and he was tough, but he had a way of making you do the extra things and it’s something that separates the good from the great. That was his question. What have you done extra?”

By the time he was a junior, Douglas had developed into a major college prospect. He signed in the fall of 1998 with Southern Miss.

&#8220I actually signed with Southern Miss as a left-handed hitting first baseman, but all I did when I was there was pitch. Coach (Corky) Palmer wanted a left-handed pitcher. I only started pitching a lot my senior year at Warren Central. I was a mid-to-upper 80s guy, but Coach Palmer snapped the bat out of my hand.

&#8220The first year, I got the No. 2 spot in the rotation. My second year, I was the No. 1, which meant I was the Friday starter. By my junior year, I had scouts coming to every game.”

In his three years at Southern Miss, Douglas became one of the Golden Eagles’ best starting pitchers. He went 22-12 and ranks third all-time in starts (43), wins (22) and strikeouts (285).

&#8220They called me ‘Chopper’ at Southern and the fact I would get a chance to play pro ball, opened my eyes. I had always been a competitor and I hated to lose, but sometimes I’d lose it, if things weren’t going right.

&#8220I had developed a bone spur by the end of my junior year and my velocity had dropped and I fell in the draft to the 32nd round. But the biggest thing I learned during that time was to keep my cool and act as a professional,” Douglas said.

His first two seasons in the Indians’ organization were two of the best of his career.

&#8220I had a 1.36 earned average in rookie ball and then the next year in low-A ball, I had a 1.37 ERA which was the lowest in the entire Indians’ organization. I struck out 104 and my opponents batted only .150 against me,” Douglas said.

Despite shoulder problems at the high-A level, Douglas was promoted to AA and even got a few games in at AAA.

&#8220I faced some good people at those levels. I struck out Jeff Francoeur four out of the five times I faced him,” Douglas said of the Atlanta Braves’ starting outfielder. &#8220I also struck out (Philadelphia’s) Ryan Howard twice.”

In 2004, an MRI revealed Douglas had torn his labrum. He came back in 2005 but suffered through &#8220my worst year in baseball.”

In 2006, he felt his shoulder problems were behind him and he was ready for spring training.

&#8220I think I had one of the best spring trainings that I had had. But on the last day, I get called in and they told me I was being released. Nineteen years in baseball and it was now gone. It bothered me. It bothers me to this day.

&#8220But now, the one thing I can say, is that I did all I could do. If at the end of your career, you can say that, that’s saying a lot.”

Douglas, married with two kids, is currently back at Southern Miss finishing up his degree. He comes back to Vicksburg every week to give baseball lessons to the area youth in his family’s backyard.