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Shawon Dunston Jr. embraces his namesake

Posted May 19, 2011

The burden to bear is large for sons of former Major League Baseball players.

Especially when pops was the first pick in the 1982 Major League Draft. Especially when you carry the exact same name.

But Shawon Dunston Jr. has never seen it that way. The Valley Christian (San Jose, Calif.) senior says it's all a blessing.

Rather than shrivel up to all the comparisons and spotlights and gawking, Dunston Jr. is an open bloom, a living, sprinting, charismatic shrine to his dad, an 18-year Major Leagues veteran and current special instructor for the San Francisco Giants.

"My dad taught me everything I know about baseball," Dunston Jr. said Tuesday. "He taught me how to apply it to life – how to push yourself every day and not let up because the competition keeps coming after you. My dad is definitely my role model. He made a living playing baseball for 18 years. That's just what I want to do."

Dunston Jr. has a legitimate shot at it, though he clearly won't be the top pick in June's amateur draft.

The 6-foot-2, 170-pound centerfielder has signed a letter of intent to Vanderbilt and last summer played in the Aflac All-American game in San Diego.

Blessed with great range, instincts and speed – he was timed at 3.8 from home to first (Ichiro Suzuki is 3.7) - the left-handed hitter will surely get drafted. But whether it will be high enough to sway him from a college education at the nation's current No. 7 team is difficult to say.

Heading into today's first-round Central Coast Section baseball playoff game with visiting Santa Clara, Dunston Jr. is hitting .295 with 19 runs, 16 RBIs and seven extra-base hits including three triples in 88 at-bats.

"It's a great education and a great program," said Dunston Jr., who picked Vanderbilt over Oregon, Oregon State, USC, Miami and LSU. "They've produced a lot of first-round picks."

Said Valley Christian coach John Diatte: "Personally, I'd like him to go to college. But he has a lot of potential. He's a great athlete with tools. If Shawon has the opportunity to be drafted he'll have a tough decision for sure."

Giving it back
He's been around the top of the game his whole life.

He skipped around the Giants' clubhouse often during the 2001 and 2002 seasons, the latter when they won the National League pennant. Dunston, a career .269 hitter with 150 home runs for 10 different teams, was a reserve outfielder on those San Francisco squads.

Those were some of his son's fondest memories.

"Seeing my dad hit a home run in the World Series was very cool," Dunston Jr. said. "So was being around one of the greatest players ever (Barry Bonds)."

These days Dunston Jr. has bonded with the younger Giants – Buster Posey, Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain – when he visits his dad.

Dunston coaches during all home games for the Giants, occasional away games and often instructs for the franchise's Single-A San Jose squad. Dunston Jr. wasn't with the Giants when they won the World Series in Texas last season but he did ride in the parade with his dad, mom Tracie and three sisters.

"That was a great day both as a Giants fan and a family experience," Dunston Jr. said.

Carrying his dad's name does create pressure, though.

"I didn't feel it as much as a youth but in high school it's definitely there. People know who you are and want to show you up. I try to just give it back but at the same time not let it consume me," Dunston Jr. said. "I'm fortunate because of the talents my dad and mom gave me, but I'm my own person too."

No argument there from Diatte. He's been around Dunston Jr. since he arrived at the private K-12 school in the seventh grade.

"He's a very good kid," Diatte said. "Very personable. He's polite, says the right things and all (his teammates) enjoy being around him."

He thinks the burden Dunston Jr. feels is probably more than he lets on.

"No one knows how hard it is to be him," he said. "Few know what it's like to be in a big league locker room and how that affects him. He very much wants to be a successful baseball player. He puts it on himself."

What are his strengths and weaknesses?

"He's a great defensive player, has incredible speed and excellent pop in his bat," Diatte said. "He needs to work on his arm strength and making sure every at-bat counts."

Dunston Jr. goes to his dad for advice about as often as dad seeks to give it.

"It's definitely 50-50," Dunston Jr. said. "I'm 18 years old and stubborn sometimes. He'll come to me just when he thinks I need it."

Diatte said Dunston has always allowed him to do his job.

"Shawon Sr. has been awesome," Diatte said. "He lets us do the coaching and he talks to his son after the game. He's hands off but always very personable and very helpful."

As far as Dunston Jr. with his teammates?

"He's just one of the guys," Diatte said. "They treat him like anyone else. They don't care what his name is."

More on Dunston Jr.
- His older sister Jasmine is a softball player for Tennessee State. Younger sister I'sha is a freshman at Valley Christian and plays basketball.

- His mom Tracie played softball in high school. "She knows more about baseball than most baseball dads," Dunston Jr. said.

- On playing his final high school games: "I started thinking about it Sunday. (Today) will be my last home game. I've made great friends and had great coaches and teachers here and I'm going to miss them greatly."

- Valley Christian (15-12) has played one of the toughest schedules in Northern California and enters as the seventh seed in the 16-team CCS D1 tournament. "We've been up and down all year but beaten two of the top teams in the state – St. Francis and Mitty. If we get hot at the right time there's no reason why we can't win it."

- He plans to study sports business and management at Vanderbilt.

- He played second base and shortstop, like his dad, until he was a freshman at Valley Christian.

- He runs 6.58 seconds in the 60-yard dash.

- Shawon's teammate and shortstop Matt Jackson has a scholarship to Washington.

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