“Last night I almost hit Herrera,” Shawn Senior, 46, the newest member of the Phillies organization told me less than 24-hours after making his debut as the team’s new left-handed batting practice pitcher.
Beaning Odubel Herrera in the bowels of Citizens Bank Park the first day of your newest position would not be the best way to start your career with a major league franchise.
“The ball clipped the L-Screen as I was throwing past it, It was going towards him and it actually went behind him. I would hope I won’t hit anyone, but I’m sure if I throw enough one or two will fly. I’m sure I won’t be the first or the last person to do it,” he said.
And so went Senior’s debut at the big league level, albeit a different one he likely dreamed of when he graduated from Cherry Hill West in 1990 and N.C. State in 1993 as a star pitcher.
The former minor league pitcher, and current wealth management employee with Morgan Stanley, was selected for the position out of hundreds of candidates who submitted audition tapes to YouTube after the Phillies put out a call on social media looking for a left-handed fan to pitch batting practice to the team before and during games.
He certainly has elite experience for the position, as Senior rose through the Red Sox farm system after being drafted as a pitcher in the fourth round of the 1993 MLB draft.
He played alongside Nomar Garciaparra and Jeff Suppan at Double-A Trenton before topping out at Triple-A Pawtucket at the end of the 1995 season. He described himself as a “crafty left-hander,” throwing mainly a fastball, curveball, changeup pitch set, and compared his pitching style to current Phillies reliever Adam Morgan, but during the starting pitcher phase of his career.
He was close to the big leagues with Pawtucket, but found himself in the “close, but not there yet,” position at the end of the season. He went 38-23 with a 3.99 ERA during his career, according to Baseball-Reference.com.
“I was never hurt, I was never injured, but I just wanted to go in a different direction with my life. It sounds crazy, but at that point I was burned out and wanted to do something else and didn’t go back to play. I stayed connected to the game a lot, I’ve trained a lot of pitchers in South Jersey, and I coach my son’s team like crazy,” Senior said.
Not a social media buff, Senior said he had no idea about the opening until his phone was flooded with texts from current Washington Nationals closer Sean Doolittle and former All-Star reliever Andrew Bailey, whom he coached and trained while they were growing up in South Jersey.
One of his current youth clients filmed him throwing a few pitches at an indoor facility (and showed him how to upload a video onto YouTube) and two months later he was one of eight finalists brought to Citizens Bank Park for a tryout.
“I’m sure somewhere along the line either Bailey or Doolittle threw me a bone and reached out to the Phillies. I still have a feeling that’s how I got into the eight finalists. The video was only five pitches,” he said.
The Phillies brought him to the Citizens Bank Park batting cages for a tryout where he threw around 75 to 100 pitches under the watchful eye of Manager Gabe Kapler, Hitting Coach John Mallee, and Assistant Hitting Coach Pedro Guerrero. He impressed the staff and was brought back last month for a final throwing session on the field.
“I think the first guy I threw to on the field was (Jesmuel) Valentine. He stepped in, he came over to shake my hand, and said he was going to bunt a couple. I threw a few warm ups, but I really don’t like to waste my bullets, I don’t need a lot of warmups at my age. I was more relaxed than I thought I’d be. It seemed very easy at the time, but it’s not always easy throwing batting practice. It’s not always easy to pump the ball in there at medium speed, but that day it was great. The guys were great,” he said.
He talked with Kapler after the session, shagged fly balls for an hour with Sam Fuld, the Phillies Major League Player Information Coordinator, and a few weeks later the Phillies told him the job was his.
He’ll attend the majority of home games for the remainder of the season and throw batting practice before and during each game.
Since the lineup isn’t used to hitting off of him yet, Senior did not throw batting practice prior to last night’s 3-1 loss to the Braves. Instead, he threw pitch after pitch in the batting cages to hitters during the 7th and 8th innings to ready them to face Braves lefty specialist, A.J. Minter.
He seemed to do a good job, as Herrera recovered nicely from his brush back and notched an 8th inning double off of Minter.
“I threw to a lot of guys who were going right from me, right to the on-deck circle, and then right to home plate. It was fun, because while I’m throwing to the next guy, the guy I just threw to is at home plate and you start rooting for those guys to do well, to have a good experience coming from hitting off of you. I hope I can add some value there,” he said.
He’s 0-1 so far with the Phillies, but the opportunity to be with the team has been great. It’s a dream, he said, and one he isn’t going to take lightly.
“I am super appreciative of the opportunity. Not many managers would step up that way and give an opportunity out there to the public, and then on top of that really take it to the next level and do the due diligence to go through the process like I think he did, and the other coaches did, to give me the opportunity that a lot of guys would want,” Senior said.
Senior lives in Cherry Hill with his wife, Danielle, and his two children, Nicholas and Alexandra.