By JAMES COOK
---- — Traverse City Beach Bums hitting coach Shannon Hunt left the team two months ago.
Now he’s taking a little bit of Traverse City with him.
Trent McDougall, a standout first baseman and pitcher at Traverse City West, will be going to New Mexico Highlands University as a preferred walk-on. Hunt was hired as associate head baseball coach at Division 2 NMHU on Aug. 1. The two had known each other since McDougall started working in the Beach Bums’ clubhouse this spring.
When the 18-year-old, 6-foot-4 McDougall showed up for his first day of work in the Wuerfel Park clubhouse, Hunt thought he was a Beach Bums player who he’d be coaching.
He was right — just off a bit on the timing and location.
“He didn’t look like a clubby,” Hunt said. “He didn’t look like a bat boy. The first time I met him, I thought he was a player. I was like, ‘Are you a hitter or a pitcher?’”
Turns out, he was both. The left-hander hit over .400 for TC West and was one of the Titans’ top pitchers. In the Near-Far All-Star Game, he struck out four in two scoreless innings to earn the win.
“He reminded me a lot of Jayson Werth,” Hunt said. “I looked at him and said, ‘I wonder if that is what Jayson Werth looked like in high school?’ He doesn’t say two words to you. He could probably break your nose, but he doesn’t say two words to you. He grows on me. He tells me about playing junior hockey and we hit it off.”
Hunt emphasizes that he didn’t have all that much to do with McDougall’s success at quickly finding a college baseball landing spot after an attempt to keep his junior hockey career going.
“Trent did everything he was supposed to do,” Hunt said. “That’s the value in this, really.”
In the spring and summer, Hunt encouraged McDougall to keep pushing his hockey dream. After playing last season for the Florida Eels in the Eastern Junior Hockey League, he had tryouts this summer with the Michigan (Flint) Warriors and the Topeka Roadrunners.
“I did well in both tryouts,” said McDougall, a defenseman who was a second-team Division 1 all-state pick at TC West. “It just wasn’t what they were looking for. And it ended up this was the best option.”
Where one door closes, another opens.
McDougall approached Hunt about the possibility of college baseball. Hunt — who was an associate head coach for NMHU in 2004-05 — points him in the direction of Cowboys head coach Steve Jones.
“I give Steve’s number to Trent and Trent’s number to Steve,” Hunt said. “And they copy me on every text. And Jones gave him a list of things to do right now: Apply for school, apply for financial aid, get ahold of housing, send your transcripts in, get your stuff from the clearinghouse — a list of everything anybody wanting to go to college has to do.”
And McDougall was a little behind the eight ball. His hockey tryouts delayed his decision to go to college. After all, if he made either NAHL team, his college days would be put on hold.
“Five days later, he sends a text back, going, ‘OK, I’ve been accepted, I’ve got housing, it looks like we’re going to Highlands and I’m flying out on the 16th,’” Hunt said, adding that many of Highlands’ incoming recruits hadn’t yet finished that process — let alone in five days.
“Being able to play a higher level of baseball, I had to get this stuff done,” McDougall said. “It was a no-brainer. I’m ready to go and fly down Friday.”
Classes at New Mexico Highlands start Aug. 19.
Hunt said McDougall’s late start meant the Cowboys had already used up all their scholarship money for this year, so the tall first baseman/outfielder had to accept a walk-on spot.
“I’ll bet you he earns a scholarship,” Hunt said. “He’s athletic enough. Over time here, he’s going to. It was that kind of character that I liked.”
NMHU fits right into McDougall’s academic needs as well. He wants to major in forestry, and the university has a full program in that field.
Hunt said when he first started talking baseball with McDougall this spring, he asked him how hard he threw. McDougall answered about “80-82 (mph).” That type of honesty — Hunt said most players will inflate their velocity — was refreshing.
“He’s a good person, he looks you in the eye. He’s got that make up,” Hunt said. “He’s got everything that tells me, ‘Don’t walk away. Give him a chance.’”