On A Mission For Mom: FIU’s Red-Hot Shenton Helps Mother Fight CancerFeatured
MIAMI — When Austin Shenton was a kid, his mother, Andrea, would get so nervous watching him play she would leave the stands, venture out to the parking lot … only to come back to watch the game while peeking through a two-inch gap in the fence.
A decade later, nothing much has changed.
Shenton, now the star third baseman for Florida International, is hitting .333 with 11 doubles, two triples, seven homers, 45 RBIs and a .952 OPS. He’s also projected to get drafted in the first four rounds next month.
Despite battling a recent hamstring injury, he has one of the nation’s longest active hit streaks at 22 games. During this streak, Shenton extended it once as a pinch-hitter and, for example, he got to 21 on Saturday by smacking a double with two outs and two strikes in the ninth. The ball sailed just inches over the glove of the left fielder.
That kind of drama hasn’t helped ease the tensions of Andrea, who watches most of the games on her computer.
“I peek through my hands on certain plays,” Andrea said. “I leave the room and watch through a sliver of an opening in the door. I pace a lot.”
Austin is well aware of his mom’s curious viewing habits.
“She paces in the concourse of every stadium she’s been at,” Shenton said. “I usually know where she’s at, but then she will vanish and turn up 500 feet away, barely peeking at the game.”
Andrea Shenton’s nerves aside, she’s one of the toughest people anyone could ever meet. She visited Austin in Massachusetts in July of 2018, just as he was dominating the Cape Cod league, hitting .372 and winning postseason MVP honors in college baseball’s top summer circuit.
Once the summer season ended, Shenton went home to visit his family in Bellingham – a small Washington town 90 minutes north of Seattle and 20 minutes south of the Canadian border. It was only then that Austin’s parents – Andrea and father Dana – sat him down for a talk.
“I grabbed his hand, and I told him: ‘I have breast cancer,’” Andrea said. “He dropped his head, and tears started flowing.”
Shenton, 21, suggested he stay home from FIU for a while, so he could help his mother through this ordeal.
But she wasn’t having that – not at all.
“It was out of the question,” Andrea said. “I know it felt strange for Austin to hear this news and then fly 3,200 miles back to Miami. But he has worked too hard in his career to take a step back now.
“Besides, watching his games on the computer has helped me. It serves as a distraction to my treatment.”
Andrea’s next big distraction was set to happen this coming weekend, when she had purchased airfare to watch FIU’s regular-season finale, at home against Louisiana Tech. But because she is set to undergo her final radiation treatments this week, she will not be able to attend.
“I want to make sure she is healthy and not doing anything against her doctor’s orders,” Austin said. “I told her I will see her when I get back home.”
Even though she missed her trip, Andrea is endlessly optimistic that she is well on the road toward defeating cancer.
“My hair is growing back!” she said.
Meanwhile, Shenton – a 6-foot, 205-pound lefty hitter — is putting what appears to be the final touches on his college career.
He was drafted out of high school by the Cleveland Indians, who took him in the 34th round in 2016. Shenton turned down the Indians and the University of Washington, which had offered a scholarship. Instead, he chose a junior college, Bellevue (Wash.), hoping he could get more experience and improve his draft stock for 2017.
But when he didn’t get drafted, he signed with FIU – going from the northwest tip of the U.S. to the country’s southeast edge.
Last year, in his FIU debut, he was an immediate star, batting .344 with a team-high 11 doubles, nine homers and a .941 OPS.
This past fall, during FIU scrimmages – despite his mother’s diagnosis weighing heavily on him – Shenton hit .400 with five homers, four doubles and 21 RBIs in 45 at-bats.
“Mentally, Austin is one of the strongest people I’ve ever known,” FIU coach Mervyl Melendez said. “He’s dealt with devastating news better than any kid his age could.”
The Shentons are no strangers to challenges.
Austin’s oldest brother, Ian, 23, suffered a stroke when he was still in Andrea’s womb, and he lost two-thirds of his brain function by the time he was born.
It was suggested that Andrea put Ian in an institution, but she wasn’t having that – not at all.
Today, Ian is thriving. He graduated from a high school that had a special-needs, life-skills program, and he works part-time at the batting cages where Austin spent much of his youth.
Naturally, Ian is a sports fan, and he loves going to baseball games.
“He’s always making friends with the announcers,” Andrea said. “He’s a lot of fun.”
For a while, that fun was contained to just Andrea, Dana and Ian. But then Austin – who is Native American – came into their lives, first as a foster child, and then, just after he turned 5 years old, as Andrea and Dana’s adopted son.
Austin hasn’t had contact with his birth parents in over 15 years. His parents, without a doubt, are Andrea and Dana, and they’ve known him since he was a baby.
“I could always tell that those were the people I trusted,” Austin said of Andrea and Dana. “They fought hard to adopt me. They changed my life for the better. They are the people I love most in this world.”
Shenton has always been a natural athlete, quickly learning golf, tennis, football, basketball and racquetball.
When he was 11, his father taught him ping pong.
“Half an hour later, it was no longer fun to play him,” Dana said. “He was crushing me. I couldn’t return his serve.”
Shenton is also a vegetarian, the self-professed best karaoke singer on the FIU team, an accomplished cook and an aspiring travel photographer with a deep love for the outdoors.
“I don’t like to view myself as just a baseball player,” Shenton said. “I like to be multi-faceted. I’m passionate about the environment and wild life.
“I love cooking. Someday, I’d like to open a little restaurant where I cook plant-based meals that show that food can taste good and still be healthy.
“I have cooked for a lot of my teammates, and they have given me great reviews.”
Shenton said his teammates are some of the most fun-loving guys he has ever met, always ready to dim the lights in the clubhouse and start dancing.
There are a lot of comedians in the group, too. But it’s also a caring bunch.
One day this past fall, when intense chemotherapy had just started to cause Andrea’s hair to fall, she got a text.
“I had a (garbage) bag in one hand and (my fallen) hair in the other, and I was thinking, ‘OK, this just got real’,” Andrea said. “But those FIU boys – one of the most encouraging things is knowing you are not walking alone.
“Coach (Melendez) sent me a photo, and all the FIU boys were wearing pink bracelets with the words, ‘Mama Shent’ and ‘Andrea Strong.’
“My heart just soared. The FIU family has sent me cards and flowers and shout-outs on Twitter. There are a ton of silver linings that have come with this diagnosis.”
Andrea is hanging tough with her treatments, and Shenton has done his part on the field despite his team struggling with a 22-29 record.
With the pressure of being a top draft prospect and his mother’s diagnosis weighing heavily on him, Shenton got off to a slow start this spring.
“I think I pressed a little bit, and I also let everything in my personal life affect me on the field,” he said. “I wasn’t as mentally strong as I usually am.”
Part of his comeback, Shenton said, came with adjustments to his swing and his approach, and his mom did what she could to help, too.
“I Googled ‘overcoming batting slumps’,” Andrea said. “And I would call him with some funny stories.”
Soon after that, Shenton started crushing the ball, game after game.
In 15 April games, for example, he hit a robust .492 with nine walks, six doubles, one triple, two homers, 22 RBIs and a 1.400 OPS. He struck out just eight times for the month.
Melendez said Shenton is still only “80 percent” recovered from his hamstring injury. Even so, he played this past weekend, leading FIU to a big road series win at Middle Tennessee, keeping alive the Panthers’ chances at qualifying for the eight-team Conference USA tournament.
And, of course, Shenton extended his hit streak to 22 games on Sunday. His teammates celebrated by referencing Taylor Swift’s song “22” as they gave Shenton some good-natured ribbing.
Shenton said he doesn’t think about the streak other than what it says about his consistency.
But he knows getting to 22 was the perfect Mother’s Day gift for his nervous and incredibly courageous mom.
“It felt good to get a win on Mother’s Day,” Shenton said. “Every game, I write the initials of my mother, father and brother in the dirt behind third base. It’s my way of reminding myself who I’m playing for each and every game.”