Prep baseball: Shelton savors chance to coach at alma mater
Chris Shelton recalls his first opening day in the Major Leagues. It was in Toronto in 2004, and the wide-eyed Cottonwood graduate was awestruck.
From his perspective, he had arrived.
"I had my first at-bat against Roy Halladay, and it was kind of overwhelming to be on the same field," Shelton said. "All the guys you watched growing up are on the field, and you realize you're on the same field. It was above and beyond what you would ever think, but everything you dreamed it would be."
Stories like that are what Shelton loves passing on to the next generation of Cottonwood players as one of the team's assistant coaches. The former big leaguer recently completed his third season at his alma mater.
"It's been exciting, more so with the fact of being around a new atmosphere," Shelton, 32, said. "When I played, it was a lot different. Now it's more exciting and more fun to be around. The facilities were not quite as nice as they are now. It gives kids a reason to want to be around there more."
The Pirates drafted Shelton, a career .273 hitter with 37 home runs and 124 RBIs, in the 33rd round of the 2001 draft. He was selected by the Tigers in the Rule 5 draft three years later and made his Major League debut with them.
Shelton hit nine home runs in the Tigers' first 13 games in 2006, becoming the fastest player in American League history to reach that mark at that point in the season. Only three others have accomplished that feat. Shelton went on to play for the Rangers and Mariners and in the minors with the Astros and Mets.
Now back where it all began, he simply is known as Coach Shelton.
"They listen and treat me more as a coach," he said. "They understand where I come from and take it in a positive way. They're very perceptive to things and are always asking why they would want to do something. They have a will to want to get better and work hard all the time. They also come to me for the stories."
Shelton played two years of varsity baseball under then-Cottonwood coach Curtis Hale. After two years at Salt Lake Community College, he moved on to the University of Utah, where he played for Tim Esmay. He played first base and caught, attracting attention for his prodigious power.
"It's a lot different going from each level," said Shelton, a 1998 Cottonwood alumnus. "One constant was it's always baseball, just with better players."
Unable to return to the majors with the Mets in 2011, he jumped at the opportunity to return to Cottonwood as one of longtime friend and coach Jason Crawford's assistants. Crawford would serve as Shelton's hitting coach during the winters when he'd come home during the last five years of his pro career.
With Shelton's help this season, the Colts made a nine-win improvement (17-13) from the previous season and won four consecutive Class 5A elimination playoff games, sending Fremont, Davis, Alta and Syracuse home.
"This group of kids started to believe in what we were trying to teach them and bought in as a team," Shelton said. "They believed in themselves."
As for the majors, Shelton has not sent in his paperwork to officially announce his retirement. He turned down an opportunity to participate in spring training with the Diamondbacks last year.
"I'm happy with what I've accomplished, and I've moved on with my life," he said. "Coaching is something I've wanted to do for a long time, and at a high level at some point. It's been an exciting time."
Shelton's MLB career
Chris Shelton, a Cottonwood High graduate, was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 33rd round of the 2001 amateur draft.
Year Team Games Avg. HR RBI
2004 Tigers 27 .196 1 3
2005 Tigers 107 .299 18 59
2006 Tigers 115 .273 16 47
2008 Rangers 41 .216 2 11
2009 Mariners 9 .231 0 4
Total 299 .273 37 124