Brendon Shoemake grew up playing club baseball with some of the best talent in Southern California. He's seen his teammates commit to play baseball for major universities and even go on to sign with Major League Baseball teams.
Shoemake, a La Cañada High senior, joined their ranks March 8, after verbally committing to play baseball for UC Santa Barbara.
The Spartans' No. 1 starting pitcher and center fielder started playing club baseball for the So Cal Blast of Diamond Bar when he was 9. He went on to play for the So Cal Sundevils of Chino Hills and continues to compete for the So Cal Bombers, which he joined at the age of 13.
"Playing club baseball really changed the way I go about things, including my work ethic," said Shoemake, adding that it was a life-changing experience seeing former teammates like Bryce Harper — the No. 1 pick in the 2010 Major League Baseball draft by the Washington Nationals — go on to play professionally. "It made think everybody has a shot."
The decision to play for the Gauchos was an easy one for Shoemake because he was promised the chance to earn playing time as a freshman. He was also being recruited by Cal State Fullerton, Arizona State and UC Irvine.
"Brendon has flown under the radar for a while now," La Cañada baseball Coach Dennis Ballard said. "He was our leading hitter last year, and when he wasn't injured he went 3-0 in league. He's a kid who has a high-school body right now and when he gets that college body put together, I think he will be a big force at Santa Barbara."
Shoemake is concentrated on putting that college body together in the offseason, when he'll start hitting the weight room.
The Spartans' ace will not only have the chance to pitch for Santa Barbara but also play in the outfield. That's good news for Shoemake, because he loves to hit and isn't a slouch with a bat in his hands, as evidenced by his .359 (37 for 103) career batting average on La Cañada's varsity team the past three seasons.
Shoemake realizes he's earned his scholarship because of his ability to dominate on the mound, though.
"If I didn't have my arm, I don't think I'd be here today. I love to hit though, so I'd like to do both," Shoemake said.
Shoemake's varsity high school pitching record is 8-2. He leads La Cañada's rotation after sitting out the first half of his junior season with a pulled biceps muscle in his throwing arm. He's already thrown a complete-game shutout this season, allowing just one hit to North Hollywood in his first start March 4.
When Shoemake steps on the hill, he tries to overpower hitters, starting them out with hard fastballs in on the hands and then tries to get them off balance with off-speed pitches. He can throw a fastball, curveball, changeup and cutter.
Although Shoemake will be a Gaucho in a matter of months, he's still concentrating on guiding the Spartans to success this season. La Cañada is 5-6 (0-3 in Rio Hondo League) so far, but he thinks the team will come around.
"We're having a slow start, but we're going to start winning," Shoemake said. "I just want to have a good season and have the team come together."