Baseball Way Back: Dunston remembers his road to Wrigley
Part 1 of 3
The No. 1 pick in baseball's 1982 amateur draft wasn't Dwight Gooden, Bo Jackson, Barry Larkin or Barry Bonds.
All of those future major leaguers were chosen after the Chicago Cubs' No. 1 pick, Shawon Dunston, a third baseman/shortstop from Thomas Jefferson High School in Brooklyn, New York.
At the time, Dunston said, "It was really an honor to be picked No. 1, knowing there are a lot of players in the country and good ones at that." He realized there would be a lot of pressure on him because he was No. 1, but said, "I'm just gonna go out each day and play the way I always have. I want to give 100 percent and try to improve my game."
Dunston's commitment to the game led to a long career at shortstop with the Cubs, who honored him this year by inducting him into the Cubs Hall of Fame.
He joined Mark Grace, part of a double play combination that included Dunston and second baseman Ryne Sandberg.
I spoke by phone with Dunston, who had 11 opening day starts at shortstop for the Cubs, even more than another famous Cubs shortstop, Mr. Cub Ernie Banks.
Dunston said he is proud to have grown up in Brooklyn. His hero was his dad, Jack Dunston, a barber and cabdriver who passed away 10 years ago.
"The reason why I'm successful is because of my dad," he said.
Although he loved all sports, his passion was baseball.
"When I started playing, I said, 'I could do this. I could be a major league baseball player.'"
He grew up a Mets fan, saying, "I liked Bud Harrelson, Wayne Garrett, Ken Boswell, Cleon Jones, Donn Clendenon."
But later in his youth, he followed the Phillies, in particular their third baseman, Mike Schmidt.
When the 19-year-old Dunston was among six shortstops chosen in the first round of the 1982 draft, Cubs scout Gary Nickels compared him to Schmidt.
"Schmidt was a shortstop in high school but ended up playing third base," he told reporters in 1982. "Shawon may not be Schmidt's equal defensively but he has the potential to be just as good as an all-around player."
In high school, he was mainly a third baseman, making an impression with his bat and his legs -- he was timed from home plate to first base in 3.7 seconds.
During his senior season, he switched from third base to shortstop.
"I loved jumping over the guys, turning the double play," he said.
That year, he hit .790 with 10 home runs and was 37-for-37 in stolen bases.
The Cubs signed Dunston to a $100,000 -- his dad helped negotiate his contract -- and assigned him to the team's Gulf Coast League affiliate in Sarasota, Florida.
"I graduated high school, and then the next day I was in the minor leagues," he said.
The team started him at third base, but after the team's shortstop, C.J. Sciacca, twisted his ankle, Dunston was moved to short.
"I made a play in the hole the first game and they said, 'You're playing shortstop from now on.'"
His minor league journey carried him from Sarasota to the Quad Cities to Midland, Texas and then to Des Moines, Iowa.
The pace in these towns was different for a kid from Brooklyn.
"Everything was slow to me," he said. "I'm in Sarasota, Florida, and I see cows off the road. But I was there to play baseball, so I really didn't care.
"The Quad Cities was slow. They didn't have buses and trains like New York, and that was a big adjustment, because I didn't have my driver's license. All my friends had licenses. They said I should have a license. What did I need a license for? We just take the train everywhere and a bus. They're looking at me like I'm crazy."
He eventually obtained a license when he was 21.
Dunston said minor league coaches like Tony Franklin and Jim Snyder, who was minor league coordinator, were important in his development.
"The minor league coaches don't get the respect that they deserve. Good coaches are always on you, telling you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear. And when you do make the big leagues, they're happy for you. It's not like they're trying to go to the major leagues with you."
By 1985, the Cubs felt Dunston was ready to make the leap to the bigs. But he found he still needed some seasoning.
Coming in Part 2: One of the Boys of Zimmer