Other than a guy in town I know who started an industrial cleaning business just before COVID-19 broke out, it would be hard to identify somebody who has turned more pandemic lemons into lemonade than Shane Taylor.
When the virus hit, Taylor was a baseball star at Faith Lutheran High. He was looking forward to being a senior, hitting long balls for the Crusaders, going to the prom.
“He should be playing against Desert Pines and Palo Verde right now,” said his father, Russell.
Instead he’s playing for Dixie State against Washington State, Wichita State, Brigham Young, Utah, Southern California, San Diego State and Arizona.
In the fourth inning Tuesday against BYU — a program that has produced major league talent such as Jack Morris, Wally Joyner, Vance Law, Rick Aguilera and Jeremy Guthrie — he hit a two-run, opposite-field double giving the Trailblazers a 3-1 lead.
Dixie State won 5-4, its second victory since making the jump from NCAA Division II to D-I during the COVID outbreak.
And somehow Taylor had become a big part of it.
“I never expected it to happen,” Taylor said from Las Cruces, New Mexico, where Dixie State met New Mexico State in a four-game series. He was speaking both about playing college baseball before his 18th birthday and traversing the badlands of New Mexico by bus.
“From going to the fall, playing with high-schoolers, being the big-dog senior, then I walk into this situation.”
When it appeared he’d be lucky to get in a few high school games at best because of the pandemic, Taylor reached out to Chris Pfatenhauer, the Dixie State coach who had offered him a scholarship for 2022. Were he to graduate early from Faith, would it be possible to enroll in classes and field fungos so he could stay baseball sharp?
Pfatenhauer, who once had coached baseball at Faith Lutheran, said if Taylor signed up for 12 hours of classes he would be considered a full-time student. So he did. And as such, he could practice with the team as a freshman redshirt.
On Feb. 25, Dixie State made its D-I debut, falling 5-3 to Washington State at Bruce Hurst Field in St. George, Utah, named for the former Red Sox all-star pitcher who grew up there. The next day, Dixie State’s starting shortstop complained of a sore arm and joined another regular infielder in sick bay.
“I’m out there shagging, hitting ground balls, and all of a sudden I’m in a jersey trying to get ready for a game against a Pac-12 team,” Taylor said of exchanging his redshirt for one with No. 38 on back. “It must have been 20 minutes before the game started.”
Boy among men
“I think he’s a stud, man,” Pfatenhauer said about Taylor forsaking a year of development to help Dixie in what promises to be a difficult transition season. “We kind of have the same expectations for him as we do all our guys. We just want to compete.”
Taylor said he still is sporting peach fuzz and trying to hit 95-mph heaters thrown by 6-foot-4-inch guys who weigh 230 pounds and, in many cases, have more facial hair than the combined members of ZZ Top.
“(In travel ball) the 1 through 4 hitters mash, but after that you can go after guys. But Washington State, they hit 1 through 9; Wichita State, 1 through 9,” he said of playing D-I baseball as a teenager.
As for bypassing his senior year of high school, Taylor said he doesn’t feel like he’s missed out on that much with the virus still impacting activities.
“I have friends back there and a girlfriend. She tells me all the things they do. Obviously, baseball is my passion, and some of these guys are probably going to be my friends for life,” Taylor said about the trade-off.
He said the last he heard, Faith Lutheran wasn’t having a senior prom this year. So he’ll keep trying to hit doubles off guys who are better at growing facial hair than he is.