Its just a name.
But everybody knows its more than that.
Shawon Dunston Jr. knows it, and his dad knows it.
Dunston Jr. is beginning his pro career with the Boise Hawks this summer. The 19-year-old center fielder knows that comparisons to his father will follow him throughout his career.
Shawon Dunston was the first overall pick in the 1982 MLB draft. The shortstop became a fixture in the Chicago Cubs infield for more than a decade and played 18 seasons in the major leagues.
Before Dunston Jr. left his family to begin his baseball journey, his father had some advice for him.
I told him, I know you have a name, but its just a name like anybody else trying to make the major leagues. So just be humble and try to learn as much as you can, Dunston said by phone from San Francisco, where he is an instructor for the Giants. Your name is Junior, not Shawon Dunston. Its Shawon Dunston Jr. Im Senior, youre Junior. Now go make your name.
In many ways, Dunston Jr. has already made his own name.
He was a good student at Valley Christian High in San Jose, Calif., and an even better baseball player. While in high school, he accepted a scholarship offer from Vanderbilt, a baseball powerhouse. Because of that commitment, most major league teams shied away from Dunston Jr. in the 2011 draft.
But the Cubs took a chance on him in the 11th round, and after a couple of months of debate, Dunston Jr. decided to go pro. The Cubs gave him a $1.275 million signing bonus in August (his father signed for $135,000 in 1982).
Despite the money, it wasnt an easy decision.
Of course you think about it, he said. You call your friends who didnt sign pro and are in college, and theyre thinking the same thing. ... But my job is baseball now, and I want to do it for a living. Im happy to be in the minor leagues and ready to be in the big leagues as fast as I can.
Before that happens, however, there is still much learning to do on the field and off.
Dunston Jr. went 0-for-6 in his first two games with the Hawks, and 3-for-19 on the teams first five-game road trip.
Bill Buckner, a former major leaguer and the Hawks hitting coach, said learning how to deal with adversity is one of the key lessons players have to come to grips with playing at this level (short season, Class A).
A lot of these guys arent used to not having success, Buckner said. Its a tough game, and you have to be able to deal with the situations when things arent going good. The game will beat you up, wear you down, and you cant have that kind of attitude.
To Dunston Jr.s credit, he knows that he needs to work on the mental side of the game.
When asked what he needs to work on in his first season as a pro, he replied, Everything. My attitude on the field, and how to approach being a professional athlete, both on and off the field. ... I used to be a little more (emotional) in high school, but in pro ball Ive got to calm it down a little bit.
Knowing that is half the battle, Hawks manager Mark Johnson said.
For a young kid to say that, its good that he knows he needs to work on it, Johnson said. Weve preached to him about how to play the game and how to handle adversity and to handle failure, which he probably has never had to deal with. ... Sometimes it takes a little bit of failure for some people to open up and understand they need to learn.
Dunston Jr. is batting .214 after going 1-for-4 with a double Saturday night.
Personally, Ive struggled at the plate and pressed a little bit, he said. I havent been playing my game, trying to do a little too much.
Baseball is a tricky game. Its just as much mental as it is physical. His father said his sons baseball I.Q. will help him get through the times when hes struggling on the field.
Hes more intelligent than I am, Dunston Sr. said. Im so proud that he earned a scholarship. When he was in high school, I told him a 3.3 (GPA) isnt good enough. I said, 3.5. Youre going to do it my way or no way. Youll probably hate me now, but youll love me later. Thats my job.
That upbringing has helped keep Dunston Jr. humble even after getting $1.275 million last summer. He allowed himself one big purchase, a Lexus, but invested the rest of the money.
Dunston Sr. wouldnt have it any other way.
He comes from a silver spoon, but I dont treat him like that, he said. Im very hard on my son.
Dunston Jr.s teammate and roommate, Rock Shoulders, said money is a non-issue for the Hawks players.
To be honest, once you get here we all treat each other the same, he said. I mean, you sign for 10 million, you sign for 10 thousand, everyones treated the same once theyre here. Its just up to you to prove yourself.
And the coaches make that clear to the players.
Once you get on a team, it doesnt matter how much money youve got or what you did in high school, Buckner said. Youve got to do it here. If you dont do it, then someone else is going to take your playing time. There are 100 guys who want your job.
One hundred guys who arent the son of a famous father.
The name has opened some doors, Dunston Sr. said. But it also puts pressure on him.
Either way, Dunston Jr. has come to terms with his name.
I embrace it, he said. I didnt really like it at first, but now I just go with it. I know who my dad is, I know who my family is, and what my last name is. I know what he did for my family and just play my game.
Chris Langrill: 377-6424