It is hard to believe it has been 12 years since James Shanks hit three homers to lead Greenbrier High School to a win in the clinching game of the 1997 state AAA championship.
Shanks was one of the most talented and athletic players to ever step foot in Columbia County. Following a senior season that he spent at a small private school in North Augusta, Shanks was selected by the Kansas City Royals in the 21st Round.
Throughout his minor league career he showed glimpses of potential stardom. At several points it seemed he might get a shot in the big leagues, but that big call up never came. He did have some off-the-field troubles at times, but no one has ever questioned his ability to play the game.
And now, at the age of 30, he is still playing the game. Shanks has found a home in the Independent Atlantic League, which was founded in 1998. Shanks is a standout for the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs, who are managed by former Boston Red Sox star Butch Hobson.
Last season Shanks helped the Blue Crabs to a 74-66 mark by hitting .287 in 82 games. Shanks also had 12 homers and 53 RBI in just 317 at bats for the Blue Crabs. He also had 18 doubles, four triples, and 11 stolen bases. That gave him more than 3,300 at-bats in pro baseball. During that time Shanks has always hit the ball. He has a career batting average of .292 with 528 runs scored and 187 stolen bases.
Not ready to give up on his big league dream just yet, Shanks chose to return to the Blue Crabs this spring. It appears the move was a solid one. Currently, the Blue Crabs are 40-26 and have a five-game lead in the Liberty Division, and Shanks is leading the effort. The once-promising speed burner has transformed himself into a run-producing power hitter.
In 64 games this season, Shanks leads the squad with 59 RBI. He also has blasted 11 homers, 10 doubles and four triples, all while hitting a robust .314.
While playing in the Atlantic League might seem like it is a long way from "The Show," the Blue Crabs had more than 225,000 in paid attendance during the 2008 season. Also, one of their pitchers was recently signed to a big league contract by the Houston Astros.
So, who knows? Maybe James Shanks will play in the big leagues one day. It is a long shot for sure, but based on his 2009 numbers there are probably a few major league teams that could use a player with his talent. Either way, Shanks is playing the sport he loves and getting paid to do it.
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