Shaun Hansen might be the perfect example of the big fish-little pond syndrome.
During his high school playing days for the former combined Southold/Greenport baseball team and then Southold and Greenport separately, Hansen was a dominant force as both a hitter and a pitcher. He was a monster at the plate who hit for power and average. As a pitcher, he routinely fired fastballs past overmatched batters.
Then again, that was then, in the small pond of high school baseball on eastern Long Island. The present situation is quite different for Hansen. At 6 feet 3 inches tall and 205 pounds, Hansen is a sizable speciman, but he is no longer a big fish. For one thing, he’s no longer playing in the proverbial little pond. He is in a much larger pool now. As Hansen has found, college baseball is a whole new ball game.
Hansen learned early on in his freshman season at Suffolk County Community College that he needed to adjust to a higher level, not to mention a new position: third base.
“It was a lot different than high school, a lot more intense, but I like that,” Hansen said. “Everyone is an all star. I would go out there and I would play terrible the first couple of games. I would be like: ‘Wow, I need to go to the gym. I need to do something different to help me get better. I need to get in the cage more. I need to do this and that.’ It made me want to do better, want to work harder to get better.”
In continuance of that pursuit, Hansen played for the Riverhead Tomcats in the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League this summer. He played first base, took some swings as a designated hitter and pitched some.
Hansen came off the bench in a pinch-hitting role last Thursday to line a single over third baseman Bobby Geren in the ninth inning of a 12-4 loss to the Southampton Breakers in Game 2 of the Hampton Division finals. The victory brought the Breakers their first division championship.
But Hansen, who throws and bats right-handed, had difficulty with a back injury earlier this summer. “They found out that my vertebrae has actually shifted a little bit so it’s pinching my muscle,” he said. “They stretched me out and I guess they popped it back into place.”
The back trouble didn’t help Hansen’s numbers with the Tomcats. He batted .077 (3 for 39) during the regular season with two runs batted in. As a pitcher, he went 1-2 with a 13.50 earned run average. In the nine and one-third innings he pitched, he issued 10 walks against nine strikeouts.
Of course, the other side to this is the quality of the competition he faced in the ACBL, which draws college players from various parts of the country.
“Playing in this league, it’s a little overwhelming at first,” said Hansen. He added: “Really, when I came here, I just wanted to get the experience. I wanted to play against good competition. Even if I did poorly, either way it’s a good experience. It is summer ball. It really doesn’t mean much. It’s just about getting better. It’s what the league is about, developing players.”
Riverhead coach Randy Caden said Hansen has the size and strength to be a good player. “I think he has the ability, he just doesn’t believe in himself yet,” Caden said. “It’s a confidence thing with him. … He’s never played on this level, as most kids haven’t. It’s a new challenge. I try to tell him, ‘It will come; it will come.’ But that’s the thing, as you go up, the competition gets tougher.”
Hansen was in for a surprise this past college season at Suffolk when he was asked to play third base, a position he had little experience at, to fill a team need. He also pitched for the Sharks. Hansen, whose father Brian coached the North Fork Ospreys last year, said he would like to play for a four-year school after completing his sophomore year at Suffolk.
While Hansen may like to reminisce about his high school playing days occasionally, he knows they are done and over with.
“In high school I could throw a fastball right down the middle and usually two out of three times they’re not going to hit it,” he said, “but if I throw one down here, someone’s going to take it out of the park easily.”