Behind the Stats: Celebrating the life of Scott Shannon

Yesterday was so much fun. And so easy.

Broadcasting games. Hanging out, talking sports – mainly baseball and basketball – and music. And girls. Quoting “Fletch.” Laughing about unique observations in life. Debating about which college basketball program was better, KU or UK. (Just remember, the coach who really got it going for you, Adolph Rupp, was from Kansas.) Going to church.

But Scott and I were young. And naïve.

And, in seemingly an instant, the innocence, youth and naivety all changed.

Wow, it’s been a blur of 20 years.

I’ve written about Scott Shannon before. Shoot, I’ve written many of the following exact words countless times during other Novembers.

That doesn’t make this column easier. Even as, today on the campus of Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn., several members of Scott’s family, plus friends, teammates, teachers and fans, gather to celebrate his life with a memorial service, my mind doesn’t let these words flow. I still get furious with that wretched cancer. I loathe it.

Even if you’re not familiar with Scott Shannon or Lipscomb, humor me for a few moments.

From 1987-1991, Shannon was a hard-throwing right hander for legendary college baseball coach Ken Dugan and the Lipscomb University Bisons. (And, yes, that’s Bisons with an “s.” That’s how they did it in the South in the mid-late 1800s. They did a lot of things wrong in the South in the mid-late 1800s.)

Shannon, 6-foot-4 and about 180 pounds (even though he was listed at 195), had a gift for a right arm. Part of that gift was the ability to throw in the 90s. Another part was the ability to throw just as hard in the late innings of a game as he did in the first two.

During his career at Lipscomb, Shannon compiled a career 27-9 record and a 3.87 earned run average. As a junior, he walked only eight batters in 70 innings. During his senior season of 1991, Shannon helped lead the Bisons to the NAIA District 24 baseball championship and a berth in the Area 5 tournament.

That season, the NAIA All-American Shannon had a 10-1 record with a 2.85 ERA, and was the NAIA Player of the Week at the end of March. Several major-league scouts talked to him, but he wasn’t drafted, which was a huge disappointment, even though he brushed it off to most people and used it for motivation.

Really, in terms of overall athletic ability, he was incredible. He may have been the best athlete, or at least the best conditioned, at Lipscomb. (And, keep in mind this was Lipscomb at a time when the men’s basketball teams, under Hall of Fame coach Don Meyer, were setting records for points and wins.)

Stories about Shannon around campus were near legendary, or at least that’s how my aging mind remembers. He ran five or six miles a day. On several occasions, he even ate an entire pizza late at night and then ran five miles a few minutes later, clocking a pretty good time. (For the record, though, at least a couple of times a week, he’d order the pizza, go for a run, and then eat.)

When he wasn’t pitching, Shannon was involved with the Bison Radio Network. That’s where we really got to know each other. We were partners for nearly three years with Lady Bison basketball and Bison baseball broadcasts, plus we each worked the men’s basketball games. In all, we probably broadcast 200-250 games together during that time.

We didn’t know each other very well before we started broadcasting together, but from the first women’s basketball game that we worked in 1989, he welcomed me as an old friend. Even though I could take away some of his play-by-play and other on-air time, there never was any type of jealousy or apprehension or ego or anything like that. He might’ve felt it, but he never showed it.

It doesn’t matter the line of work, people oftentimes see or feel jealousy or feel unwanted as the “new guy.” It’s human nature. That wasn’t Scott’s nature. He didn’t allow me to feel any of that. He helped me learn everything I needed to know about the broadcasts because, to him, it was a matter of being members of a team, doing the best job we could do putting on the best broadcast each game, and having fun along the way.

Largely because of his attitude, we developed a fast and close friendship.

In fact, he was the instigator in me getting up the guts to introduce myself to the pretty girl who’d become my wife.

That’s the way he was. Shannon had an uncanny ability to make friends and be friendly with a wide range of people. He personally touched hundreds of lives. There are plenty of people with great Scott Shannon stories, I’m sure.

The summer after his senior season, 1991, Scotty and I spent quite a bit of time together, at least as much as we could between jobs and girlfriends. As August approached, he was complaining about being tired. He looked it, too. It seemed understandable, considering he was working two jobs, plus he was preparing for a couple of major-league tryouts.

As an athlete you know your body. You know the aches, pains and normal fatigue and recovery. Even as a young, invincible athlete, you know when something just isn’t right. In early September, Labor Day weekend to be exact, Scotty reached that point and went to see a doctor at a Nashville hospital. The doctor suggested that he go, almost immediately, to nearby Vanderbilt  University Medical Center.

It was cancer. Damn cancer!

The American Cancer Society estimates that nearly 1.5 million Americans will face cancer this year. And approximately 560,000 people will die from some type of the disease this year. Additionally, look at the person next to you. At status quo, according to the ACS, either you or that person will get cancer during your lifetime.

Next Friday, Nov. 11, undoubtedly, I’d be calling or texting Scotty and giving him a hard time for turning 42, especially since his birthday was three months before mine. But I won’t make that call or send that text.

You see, 20 years ago today, Nov. 5, 1991, two months after being admitted to the hospital at Vanderbilt, and having not left it since the Sunday night before Labor Day, cancer and all the drugs used to fight it, took Scotty’s life. He was six days shy of his 22nd birthday.

Call it morbid. Call it sentimental. Call it whatever. I really don’t care. But I could count on one hand the number of days during the past 20 years that I haven’t thought about Scotty at least once. Although it’s usually a quick, funny story, many of those thoughts center on the unanswerable: “Why?”

Why would God (or whatever higher power in which you believe) allow this to happen? Why did parents have to go through this with one of their children? Why is it that someone my age — and in incredible shape — get cancer and die so quickly?

I haven’t learned the answer to any of those questions. I suspect I never will.

A lesson I’ve learned through the years, though, is that friends come and go. There are some that we wish would go sooner, but they don’t. Then there are those who come into our lives and we’re forever grateful, even if the time spent with them is cut short. Obviously, Scotty is one of those.

Another reason he’s in my thoughts so often is because our youngest son, who happened to be born two days before Scott’s birthday in 2004, takes one of his names from Scotty. Coincidentally, he’s ornery, a little stubborn, loves the girls and they love him, and he makes me laugh every day. That same sentence could be used to describe Scott Shannon.

Scott’s family has told me that they know of at least three other little boys running around with the name Scott because of Shannon’s influence. It goes back to how he dealt with people.

Ultimately, for Scott Shannon, it was about team; it was about doing things – doing life – the right way; and, just doing our best job.

And along the way, we had some fun.

For more information on Matt Fulks’ books, or to suggest a “Behind the Stats” topic, visit Matt at MattFulks.com.

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