Reading baseball: When Ron Shelton met Ron Shelton

In his recently published "The Church of Baseball," Ron Shelton gives an account of his early days in baseball before he wrote and directed "Bull Durham."

In 1967, after majoring in English at Westmont College in Santa Barbara and starring at shortstop on the baseball team, Shelton signed a professional contract with the Baltimore Orioles and was assigned to Bluefield, W.V., in the Appalachia League, "the lowest rung on the ladder" to the big leagues.

When he arrived in Bluefield, Shelton headed to the hotel assigned to Oriole prospects. In the lobby, "a friendly, open-faced player" walked up to him and said, "Hi, I'm Ron Shelton. What's your name?" At first Shelton thought it was a practical joke, but when he found out that there were two Ron Sheltons on the team, he decided to go by his middle name and told his manager, Joe Altobelli, that his name was Wayne Shelton: "I thought it would be better to have my own first name than be 'Ron Shelton Number Two'."

Wayne Shelton didn't have to wait long to reclaim his first name. Before the 1967 season was over, he was moved to the Orioles farm club in Stockton, California. He went on to play several more seasons in the minor leagues and finished his career with AAA Rochester, one rung on the ladder below the big leagues.

The other Ron Shelton, a left-handed pitcher, finished out the season in Bluefield, his second of what turned out to be his last in professional baseball when the Orioles released him. After his release, he returned to his home in Johnston City, Illinois, and decided to attend Southern Illinois University. He went on to a Hall-of-Fame career as a high school baseball coach in Illinois. To this day, he travels from his home in Florida to Carterville, where he conducts a summer baseball camp.

In "The Church of Baseball," Ron Shelton mentions that, despite their different paths "the other Ron Shelton and I were in touch in recent years; as I write this his son Derek has just become a major league manager." His son Derek was born in Carbondale on July 30, 1970. He attended Southern Illinois University from 1989 to 1992 and had an outstanding college baseball career. After his college career was over, he signed a professional contract with the New York Yankees.

Derek Shelton had an excellent early career in the minors before experiencing elbow pain that required surgery and ended his playing career. He stayed out of baseball for several years until he was contacted by former baseball Saluki, Mark Newman, who was the Yankees' coordinator of minor league instruction, with an offer to manage in the Yankees' minor league system.

At the end of "Bull Durham," Crash Davis, a career minor leaguer, has decided that his playing days are over, but he tells Annie Savoy that he is thinking about taking a managing job next season. There's never been a sequel to "Bull Durham," but the rest of Derek Shelton's career reads like what well could have happened to Crash Davis had he gone on to manage in the minor leagues.

Beginning with the 2000 season, Derek Shelton spent three years managing Yankees Class A teams to winning seasons before accepting the position of hitting coach with the Cleveland Indians and later with Tampa Bay. After over a decade serving as a hitting coach he was hired in 2018 as the bench coach with the Minnesota Twins. Two years later, he accepted an offer to manage the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Longtime fans of Saluki baseball and the Pirates, my wife Anita and I watched Derek Shelton in his glory days at SIU and have shared his misery in his dark days of managing the Pirates. We also, however, had a reminder recently that, despite the Pirates' continuing woes, Derek Shelton is capable of bringing baseball's glory days back to long-suffering Pirate fans, if, hopefully, given enough time.

A few weeks ago, Derek Shelton's father, now in his 70s, was interviewed at his baseball camp in Carterville. When asked why he keeps coming back to the camp from his home in Florida, he said that he wants to teach kids to love baseball and have fun playing the game.

It's also the same passion for baseball that drove another Ron Shelton to write and direct baseball's greatest movie.

<i> Reading Baseball is a series of stories and commentaries by Richard "Pete' Peterson, the author of Growing Up With Clemente and the editor of The St. Louis Baseball Reader.</i>