Part of the beauty of baseball is that there isn’t just one path to the major leagues. Sure, it’s much easier to be a high-round draft pick, ascend through the minors with ease, and make your debut in the majors. But, there are always players who were overlooked, developed later, or were drafted so late in the draft that they were considered an afterthought. We naturally root for those players – we always love a good underdog who follows a unique path to major league success.
Raul Shah is certainly following his own path – and he’s hoping he paves his way to the big leagues.
After growing up in Ellicott City, MD, Shah started his journey playing at Johns Hopkins University. From there, he began a journey all across Independent Baseball that has most recently taken him to the Ogden Raptors. In his age-27 season, he hit .352/.456/.533 in 261 ABs for the Raptors. In his Independent League career, he has amassed quite a bit of hardware:
- Batting Title
- Slugger of the Year Award
- Three consecutive All-Star Game starts
- Member of two championship teams
His goal through all of this: make the major leagues and become the first Indian position player in MLB history.
Raul took some time to talk about his path through college and professional baseball, what he feels has aided his success, what he thinks it will take to get to the big leagues, and more!
Start by talking a little bit about the player you are – your training and routines, for example. How have you found yourself at this point in your career?
When I got to college I quickly realized that, even as a freshman, my skill set was equal to the seniors, but my strength and athleticism paled in comparison. I knew I had to work overtime in order to catch up. And so, I did. My freshman year was a defining point in my career. It was then that my most famous training story was born: The Doc’s Laboratory.
We had a batting cage in the basement of the recreation center, which was open until midnight. Unfortunately, by the time I finished class, practice, and my homework, the rec center would be closing. I might only get an hour to go workout and hit. So, I did it anyway figuring that one hour is better than no hours.
After a few times going through this routine, I realized that no one came down to the batting cages to lock up. The workers would simply lock up the rec center and go home.
I was able to stay in the batting cages until my heart desired.
This was the start of one of the most defining points in my career. This was when I became me: “The Hardest Working Man in Baseball.”
I would get into the rec center right before they would close, head downstairs with my Bose speakers, and blast music while I trained. There was no one there. It was a party. I would hit off the tee, pitching machine, and little ball machine (for hand-eye coordination). I would hit weighted balls, I would work on my short hops, I would do the agility ladder, I would do plyometrics, bodyweight exercises, suicides, and mobility/recovery exercises. Oh yeah, and this would be on top of the practice, games, and lifts we had earlier that day. By the time I left the gym, it would be 4 am and 10 hours of training in one day.
That walk home was iconic. I left that little cage feeling like a giant. I walked past kids drunk in the street thinking to myself, “this is what separates the good from great.” The feeling I got on that walk back to my dorm every night was worth every ounce of pain it took. I felt like an underdog on the come-up.
I guess some things never change. After I graduated, I pursued a path to the MLB via the Partner Leagues. With nothing else to focus on except baseball, I knew I could become a complete athlete.
My training on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday was structured as follows:
- Track Practice (10am-Noon)
- Gym (Noon-2pm)
- Baseball Practice (7pm-10pm)
On Tuesday and Thursday, I would only have the gym and baseball practice. I would typically take one day off on the weekend to recover.
My track coach is Sanjay Ayre, who is an Olympic Medal Winner. The track workouts he designed are grueling. A typical day midseason would be:
- Show up and get loose
- Go through all your speed drills and mobility work
- 10-200m repeats – sub 32s with 90s break in between
- 10-50yd strides at 60-70%
- A thousand reps on the hurdle drills (various exercises)
- Cool run and stretch
Then, we go to the gym for strength training and baseball practice takes place at night after a mid-day break.
I do not have any specific routines, other than my workout schedule. I am not superstitious either. I would characterize myself as logical, and I like to go with the flow.
Obviously, playing at a DIII school and in Independent Baseball doesn’t afford you many opportunities. How would you characterize your mindset as you go through the difficult challenges?
My mindset is would best be described by one word: unrelenting.
I thought it would be impossible to beat someone who didn’t give up. So, in my mind, all I had to do was get up every time I fell. And I have fallen a lot. I have had bad games, bad weeks, and bad seasons – just like every other great athlete. But, I learned from those experiences, always believed in myself, and came back with a vengeance. Hard work is really just the superficial layer. A calm, yet ferocious mind is the deep layer. That is the layer that really counts. Anybody can lift weights and run. Not everybody can conquer their own mind.
I think during times of struggle, you have to go back to when you were a kid – wide-eyed, naïve, and ready to take on the world. The kid who didn’t believe in limitations because he didn’t even know what they were. The kid who saw himself in a Major League uniform. The kid who saw himself signing autographs. The kid who saw himself winning the World Series. That kid needs to come back to life. He’s in there. He’s just lost. But, once you find that kid again… it’s game over for everyone else.
A kid’s spirit equipped with an adult’s wisdom is the deadliest combination that exists.
Can you talk a bit more about all the stops you’ve made on your journey – all the way from D3 to professional baseball?
I had a great college career at Johns Hopkins University. Given that it is a Division 3 school, scouts do not spend time attending our games. Thus, I started to look into independent baseball as a route to the Big Leagues.
After I graduated in 2016, I began training with Sanjay [Ayre] and signed into the Empire League in 2017. In my few years there, I won numerous accolades there, including a Batting Title, Slugger of the Year Award, 3 All-Star Nominations, and a Championship.
In 2020, I was promoted to the Frontier League with the NJ Jackals, where we won another championship. In 2021, I was promoted to the Pioneer League with the Ogden Raptors. There, I hit .352 with 8 HR and 67 RBI. I finished 9th in the league in hitting and had the greatest year of my career. For 2022, I have been promoted to the Southern MD Blue Crabs in the Atlantic League. With this promotion, I am now 1-2 steps away from becoming a Major League Baseball Player.
When I look back at my journey, one thing stands out: how much fun it has been. I spend my summers playing baseball in beautiful towns, I get to try a different restaurant every week, and I get to pursue my dreams. I couldn’t be happier. I smile when I think back about all the memories with my teammates, the friendships I have made, and the experiences I am blessed to have gotten.
You mentioned you are just getting closer to the majors. What are the next steps you have to take to get the call to the Major Leagues?
From here it is difficult, but not insurmountable:
- I have to play well in the Atlantic League. I am training extremely hard for that and believe this is going to be the best year of my career. I have made a nice change to my swing and gotten stronger in the gym. My mind is sharper and I have more experience. All of these things are going to contribute to a great season in 2022.
- When the opportunity presents itself, I believe I will sign an affiliated contract at a high level (AA or higher).
- From there, I have to continue to play extremely well and battle against other players – the same way I have battled my entire career. At the AA and AAA level I would be one step removed from the MLB.
What does a typical day look like for you now as a professional ballplayer?
Almost everything I do revolves around the question: “Will it make me a better baseball player?”
I make sure I get enough sleep so I can spend the majority of my day training. I take nutrition really seriously as well. I eat healthily and I fast for a majority of the day (which is a bit unorthodox). Typically, I fast for 18 hours and do a 24 hour fast on my off day. I find this brings mental sharpness, trains my discipline, and helps me remain in great shape.
Trying to be the best is a 24-hour job, and as such, I stay away from distractions. I don’t concern myself with what anybody says or what anybody else does. I stay laser-focused on beating myself from yesterday. Every day, I wake up and feel like the man. I feel like I am the star of every room that I stand in.
For fun, I like to cook, bake, play guitar, and learn something new every day.
Is there any advice you have for anyone who might be reading this with aspirations to get where you are?
Go for broke, gamble, and play for keeps.
On behalf of the entire Diamond Digest crew, I’d like to thank Raul for taking the time out to talk about his career and what will hopefully be next on the horizon for him. Always great to have an underdog that we can all root for.
You can follow Raul on Twitter @DocShah14 – go show him some support!