Kentucky sophomore JaVon Shelby has been around baseball his whole life.
As the son of 11-year big league veteran and longtime MLB assistant coach John Shelby - who won the 1983 World Series with the Baltimore Orioles - baseball is in his blood.
Kentucky blue is also in JaVon's blood, as his older brother, John T., is one of the top players in school history.
John T. paced the Wildcats from a last-place finish in the Southeastern Conference in 2005 to a regular-season championship in 2006, earning All-SEC honors at second base, while belting 16 homers.
"Just growing up, watching him play in that Kentucky blue it just kind of soaked into me," JaVon said. "Ever since then I wanted to be a Wildcat and didn't want to be anything else. Glad it played out the way it did."
John T. is currently a scout in the Brewers organization, the same franchise that his father works for as the first-base coach.
"We used to travel with my dad every summer," JaVon remembered. "We would try to go early to the field to hit every single day. Being around baseball my whole life, you get that feel of the clubhouse, even at a young age you see how everything is planned out and rolls together efficiently."
Seven seasons after John T. manned the pivot at Cliff Hagan Stadium, JaVon emerged as an Freshman All-SEC selection in 2014 while helping UK to its eighth all-time NCAA Tournament berth.
Despite missing the entire fall of his freshman season while rehabbing an injury from high school, it was hard for the UK coaching staff to hide its excitement about the newest Shelby in the Kentucky baseball family in the preseason.
JaVon earned the opening day start in leftfield against No. 1 Virginia, with the Wildcats facing off with Cavaliers lefthanded off-speed artist Brandon Waddell.
"I struck out swinging on a changeup," JaVon said. "I had a whole bunch of butterflies, because it was my first game and we were playing the No. 1 team in the nation so it was easy to get hyped up. I got out of my rhythm in that first at-bat thinking (Wadell) was going to throw me all fastballs."
A high school draft pick by the Milwaukee Brewers, JaVon got a second chance against Wadell in the fourth inning, with UK owning a 2-1 lead and two outs in the bottom of the fourth inning. He ripped a RBI line drive into the right-centerfield gap to give UK a two-run advantage.
"As the game went along I settled down and we were in a spot where I needed to get a hit," JaVon said. "Later on the game I sat back on a fastball and got a single. That was a great experience."
In his first career home start, a twinbill sweep or Cincinnati, JaVon belted his first career homer and added a double. He went on to make his next 51 starts at second base - including 41 consecutive to end the year - tying UK teammate Storm Wilson and Alabama outfielder Casey Hughston for the freshman SEC homer lead (four). Overall, Shelby hit .250 during his debut season, with six doubles, two triples and 21 RBI.
Somewhat new to second base, but with enough jaw-dropping athleticism to play anywhere on the diamond, JaVon's transition to the keystone was not without challenges. Learning the intricacies of turning a double play, holding runners and playing up the middle at the SEC level was a new challenge to the star centerfielder as a senior at Tates Creek.
"I didn't start playing outfield until my senior year of high school," JaVon said. "After playing second base in summer ball, I got back to school, we had lost Dorian Hairston left and we needed a centerfielder. I made that transition to outfield, which is easier than making the transition to infield. UK recruited me as an infielder. I had to step up, I had to fill the role because we lost (former UK star 2B) J.T. (Riddle), so I was trying to do anything I could to fill the role."
It became obvious as the year went on that Shelby's transition to second base was getting smoother. His turn was better and he was able to utilize his above-average arm strength in completing plays other defenders couldn't,
During the summer, JaVon teamed with Marcus Carson, Zack Brown and Connor Heady on the Amsterdam Mohawks in the Perfect Game Collegiate League. He earned the starting shortstop gig in the PGCBL All-Star Game, belting 12 doubles and three homers in 134 summer at-bats.
After his summer, JaVon was forced to sit out the 2014 fall practice season while he worked to get back to full health for his sophomore campaign.
As the Wildcats enter 2015, JaVon will be counted on as a middle-of-the-order run producer for a left-handed heavy UK lineup. With UK missing right-handed power veterans Max Kuhn and Micheal Thomas, Shelby and veteran right-handed hitting infielder Thomas Bernal will be key in balancing out the UK batting order.
His quick right-handed bat is not the only thing that he will be counted on for, as JaVon owns a charisma and infectious personality that screams leadership potential.
"You can't really make a guy a leader. You are born with it or not and you can't go out of your way with it," JaVon said. "You have to be yourself to be a leader. You have to tell jokes, be serious at times, tell guys what they are doing wrong and sometimes you have to yell at a guy to straighten them up."
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