There is no shortage of great Susquehanna League baseball players over the past 50 years.
Names such as Mike Bacon, Ed Workinger, Toby Grove, Bruce Frick and others are always bound to come up when the question is asked about who was the best ever.
Longtime Windsor manager Nate Neff, however, has another name that comes to the top of his mind when the subject is broached — Shawn Wilson.
While the names mentioned previously ended their baseball careers long ago, Wilson is still a regular for Neff and his Cardinals club. Now playing in his 21st season, Wilson has quietly put together a very impressive resumé.
A three-time league Most Valuable Player (2003-2005), the 37-year-old Wilson is a rare player who can beat a team anywhere on the field. With the bat, Wilson is a two-time batting champion (2003, 2012). On the mound, Wilson is regularly among the league-leaders in wins. And defensively, he can play pretty much anywhere on the field and still hold his own.
That rare combination of skills is certainly a big reason that teams are always eager to pick up Wilson for their rosters when the Tom Kerrigan Colonial York Tournament rolls around every Labor Day weekend.
“I think that he’s possibly the best player ever in the league,” Neff said. “He’s the best player I’ve ever seen. Between pitching and hitting, if you look at the numbers, there may be guys with more hits and more pitching wins, but for a span of 10 years, pitching and hitting wise, he put up some numbers that are just unbelievable.”
MVP years: In his first MVP season in 2003, Wilson hit .484 (60 for 124) to lead the circuit. He was among the leaders in home runs (seven), RBIs (34) and runs scored (45). He also pitched 69 innings that season while picking up six wins and striking out 54. Wilson won the MVP again in 2004 after hitting .336 with eight home runs and 33 RBIs while tallying a team-high eight wins and a 2.50 ERA in 11 starts. The Windsor standout followed up with his third consecutive MVP season in 2005 after finishing second in the league in wins (10) and innings pitched (75). Wilson batted .385 with seven home runs and 46 RBIs, all team highs that season.
While those numbers are impressive personally, Wilson is not the type to brag about himself in public. He is definitely a team-first guy who looks to share the credit with his teammates whenever pressed.
“I was pretty fortunate to play on some really good teams,” said Wilson, who was also a standout football and basketball player when Neff coached him back in high school at Red Lion.
One of the only things that Neff recalls he ever did with Wilson after he took over as manager of the club is to move Wilson away from shortstop, where he played when he wasn’t pitching. It was a bold move, but it worked out just fine.
“The first thing I did was tell him, ‘You’re going to third base,’” Neff said. “I said pitching and shortstop won’t mix. The arm just won’t hold up. And that’s probably the only thing I did with him.”
The reason it worked out so well is because of Wilson’s attitude. Some players may have taken some offense to a switch like that. Not Wilson.
“Gripes?” Neff said. “Shawn Wilson? No. Shawn never has a gripe about anything I’ve wanted him to do. Heck, for the past couple of years he’s begged me to be the first one to catch if we didn’t have a catcher. He loves catching, but luckily he’s only had to do that once or twice for us over these last couple of years.”
Losing has no impact on Wilson's attitude: In Wilson’s prime, the Cardinals were one of the better teams in the league. The winning seasons, however, have been just a memory in Windsor as of late. While Wilson and Neff are still around, many of the team’s better players during their run from 2003-2012 are gone. Guys such as Nate Neumann, Luke Keeny, Rick Thompson, Darren Hake and others have since retired or moved on to other clubs.
After finishing third in the standings in 2012, the Cardinals finished last in the Susquehanna League standings 2013. Windsor hasn’t really been much of a factor since then, including a 6-20 record so far this season.
Have the recent down times had an impact on Wilson’s attitude toward playing baseball these days?
Not a chance.
“Nah,” he said. “I don’t find it being tough. I just enjoy playing baseball. I enjoy it as much now as I did when I started when I was 16.”
That response is undoubtedly one of the biggest reasons that Neff thinks so highly of Wilson.
“I wish some of my other players were as conscientious as Shawn,” Neff said. “His son, Ryan, was in the hospital the other day and Shawn’s just texting me all day about the game. I said, ‘Shawn, don’t worry about the game. Take care of your son.’”
Family connections: Playing catch before the game with his son is one of the biggest reasons that Wilson is still playing these days. He often gets to the field early with his son. They play catch before usually eating a sub before the game.
His time with his son also helps to fill a void left in his heart after his grandfather, Lewis, died back in 2001.
“I miss that,” Wilson said, with a tear running down his cheek. “He was always there through high school and Legion and here until he couldn’t come anymore.”
Neff can appreciate the bond that Wilson has with both baseball and his son.
“I know that his son just loves baseball to death,” Neff said. “And I’m sure that Shawn really enjoys it. It’s neat to see.”
Reach Ryan Vandersloot at email@example.com.