Alcorn’s Phillips gets visit from parents all the way from home

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 4, 2003

LORMAN &045; Shane Phillips is the first to admit he didn’t give it a second thought. He found a Web site for college prospects and went ahead and put his name on it.

Why not? Phillips, a native and resident of Australia, was visiting his sister, Angela, in Orlando, Fla., at the time while she was on a one-year internship. It was his dream to earn a scholarship to play college baseball in the United States, but at the time all he heard from were junior colleges in California.

They wanted the 6-2, 200-pound catcher, but they offered no scholarship.

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Phillips also sent out letters to various colleges in the United States asking for an opportunity. Some replied they didn’t need a catcher. Others said they didn’t field a baseball team.

Then came the phone call. It was Alcorn State head coach Willie &uot;Rat&uot; McGowan, who called the Phillips home in Melbourne, Australia.

&uot;I called him all of a sudden,&uot; McGowan said. &uot;I looked at his size, and we needed a catcher. We didn’t have but one, and I wanted a bigger catcher. I said, ‘Let’s take a chance and bring this guy in here.’ We took that chance, and it paid off.&uot;

It’s really starting to pay off this season for Phillips, a junior who is enjoying his best season at the plate and while continuing his superior defensive skills as catcher as the Braves heading into the stretch run of their season.

But as a bonus Phillips will get a chance to play the rest of the season in front of his parents, Neil and Wanda Phillips, for the first time. The couple arrived Tuesday and will stay in Natchez with the Simonton family &045; who took their son in and helped him get established &045; while getting to watch Shane play college baseball for the first time.

&uot;He’s always lived at home, and this is the first time he’s ever been on his own,&uot; Neil said. &uot;We’re so proud of him. We just don’t believe it. You start when you’re six years old and have a dream. Your ultimate dream is to make it to the big time. But for Shane to get here, it makes you feel good. And he’s getting an education. It’s fantastic. Just to see him play is fantastic.&uot;

Phillips and the Braves have a crucial series beginning today against Alabama A&M at home. Alcorn is in a hunt for a playoff spot, and a three or four wins in the four-game set would put the Braves back on top in the standings.

&uot;This is big for us to make it to the tournament,&uot; Shane said. &uot;All of these series are with Jackson State, A&M and Valley. It’s time for us to stop making simple errors. We’re beating ourselves, I feel.&uot;

Where in the world is Alcorn?

No one in the Phillips household really knew what to think when McGowan called. But after efforts to land Shane on a college baseball squad failed, they were open to the idea of anyone making an offer.

Well, once they could get through the cultural differences.

&uot;I didn’t understand him at the time,&uot; said Wanda, who answered the phone. &uot;He said, ‘You have a son that plays baseball?’ I got that much out of him at the time. I got Shane to ring him back. He hadn’t ever seen him or known anything about him. You can put anything on the computer. It all fell into place.&uot;

The Phillips family made the trek to Lorman from Orlando in hopes of Shane getting some kind of scholarship. Financing college tuition would be tough since the Australian dollar is valued at about half of the American dollar, forcing the family to pay double tuition without a scholarship.

&uot;When we came here, the people were really nice to us,&uot; Neil said. &uot;The people and the students were really

nice to us, and that appealed to us a lot. They made us feel welcome. I never forget seeing Coach McGowan when we got here &045; his eyes lit up.&uot;

The meeting was productive, and Shane returned home to study for his SAT and make other preparations for enroll at Alcorn. McGowan offered half of a scholarship, and Shane made preparations to play his first season in 2001.

&uot;I didn’t even know historically black colleges existed, to tell you the truth,&uot; Shane said. &uot;A lot of people ask me about that. From the time I’ve been here it’s been nice. The biggest thing I wanted to do was play ball in America. That’s been a dream of mine since I was young.&uot;

A new side job

It was last summer when Shane was bored and retreated to the fields to kick an Australian football around. He was just interested in passing the time, but it turned out to be much more than that.

He caught the eye of an assistant coach, who brought out an American football for Shane to punt.

&uot;He saw me when he was mowing the grass,&uot; he said. &uot;I just kicked it, and he said, ‘That’s pretty good.’ So he brought the head coach out, and they said, ‘You’ve got to learn to take two steps.’ So I kicked it and said, ‘Like this?’&uot;

The chance meeting was just what Alcorn head coach Johnny Thomas was looking for &045; a punter. Shane suited up for the Braves last fall and just did what he did growing up in Australia &045; kicked a football.

&uot;Most of my friends can kick the ball as good or better than I can,&uot; Shane said. &uot;You can go to Australia and find a whole bunch of kickers. I was just in the right place at the right time.&uot;

Shane finished third-best in punting average in the Southwestern Athletic Conference and earned second team All-SWAC honors. He also earned a full scholarship.

His parents were obviously proud, although they admittedly knew less about the sport &045; they call it gridiron &045; than baseball. But they listened to games on the Internet despite a 3 a.m kickoff Melbourne time.

&uot;We didn’t know anything about American football,&uot; Neil said. &uot;There’s only four clubs that play gridiron, but it’s not very good. No one here knew about gridiron at all.&uot;

Productive season

Shane struggled when he got here. He needed some time to adjust to the American game, which he said is at a much faster pace than what he was accustomed to playing.

The defensive skills came, but the offense still lagged after last season. He hit just .170 in 47 at-bats while backing up James Neely. But Neely didn’t return for the 2003 season, and Shane is hitting .319 as the Braves’ starting catcher &045; including an 8-of-13 performance in last weekend at Alabama State.

He’s more consistent behind the plate, and Shane currently ranks first in the SWAC with six runners picked off and is tied for second with 11 runners caught stealing.

&uot;I’m getting more repetition,&uot; he said. &uot;I feel like I was trying to hit the ball too hard. This (past) weekend and earlier in the season I was just trying to make contact &045; just going up there and trying to relax. I’m getting more repetition and getting into a groove. Hopefully I can stay consistent.&uot;

The more consistent he can be in both areas, the more Shane will increase his stock after college. With the rise of the SWAC, more scouts are taking notice of baseball programs at historically black colleges.

And if not baseball, there’s always football.

&uot;I’d like to see where this all ends up,&uot; Shane said. &uot;If not, I go home with a degree. A lot of guys I’ve seen get picked up when they’re 16 or 17, don’t go to college, get stuck in Single-A ball and go home 22 or 23 and have no education. I didn’t want to do that.&uot;

That would be the ultimate dream, his parents said. There are more Australians playing in Major League Baseball than ever, and everyone back home knows of Darren Bennett &045; the Australian native who punted for the San Diego Chargers.

&uot;He’s got every opportunity to do what he wants to do,&uot; Neil said. &uot;I’ve always told him to do his best. So if it doesn’t work out, you have no regrets. It’s his dream to do this. He just loves baseball. He wanted to play baseball.&uot;