When Mike Shawaryn took the mound for the first time as a Maryland Terrapin, he faced a ranked Florida Gators lineup in Gainesville. The freshman’s talent was clear, as he had been a 32nd-round pick in the 2013 MLB Draft, but no one knew exactly what to expect.
In front of a raucous SEC crowd, Shawaryn threw 5.2 innings of two-run, three-hit baseball, earning the victory as Maryland won 9-7.
“A cliche would be, ‘The rest is history,’” former Maryland head coach John Szefc said.
Five years later, Shawaryn is now pitching for the Boston Red Sox. The right-handed pitcher was called up to the big-league club on May 30 as the Sox were starting a six-game road trip.
“I was watching the Bruins game with my buddy and got a call from Boston,” Shawaryn told Testudo Times. “I called them back and they told me. At first I was like, ‘No way! It’s actually happening!’ I just took a deep breath and just wanted to enjoy it.”
The first stop: Yankee Stadium.
“It was awesome, coming up in that series. It was a pretty cool first series to get called up on,” Shawaryn said. “To be able to be a part of that and experience the atmosphere, it’s incredible. You can barely describe it being a player, let alone being a fan and being able to go to the game. It’s different than any other baseball game you’ll probably play.”
Shawaryn didn’t pitch in that series or that road trip. It wasn't until the Red Sox got back to Fenway Park on June 7 that he got the call from the bullpen. It was the opening game of a four-game series against the Tampa Bay Rays and Shawaryn came in to pitch the eighth inning.
He didn’t disappoint, throwing two innings in relief, giving up one hit and one run while striking out four Rays batters. So far, he’s had quite an entrance to MLB. In 8.1 innings pitched, he’s given up just the one run and one hit, striking out 13 batters and walking two.
However, this success didn’t come overnight. It started in College Park.
Originally, Terps pitching coach Jim Belanger didn’t think Shawaryn was going to be a starter his freshman year. Szefc, having seen him a few times, said that “if we have three better starters than him, we’re gonna be pretty good.”
Shawaryn ended up as Maryland’s second starter in 2014 behind Jake Stinnett, and posted an 11-4 record and 3.12 ERA in what Szefc called “as good a freshman year as you’re gonna see.” Florida ended up being child’s play at the NCAA Tournament, when Shawaryn won at South Carolina, throwing 6.1 innings of five-hit, three-run ball in front of 6,813 people.
Maryland, coming off a 30-25 season in 2013, didn’t have high expectations entering the spring, but reached Super Regionals for the first time in program history and finished 40-23. The next year, Maryland went 42-24 and won a regional again, this time knocking off top-seeded UCLA. Shawaryn said that two-year period helped alter the reputation of Maryland baseball — “We’re a good program,” he said. “We have opportunities to be a great program.”
As a sophomore, Shawaryn blossomed into a First Team All-American, going 13-2 with a 1.71 ERA. He struck out 138 batters that season — still a program record. But there was MLB talent across the roster with a lineup that included second baseman Brandon Lowe, shortstop Kevin Smith and outfielder LaMonte Wade, and the rotation included a rookie Brian Shaffer. Four years later, all of those players are in at least the Double-A.
“It talks a lot about not just the players they recruited, but the type of guys that they recruited,” Shawaryn said. “We were just as talented as any other team, but we worked just as hard.”
Once 2016 rolled around, everyone knew Shawaryn was a top MLB prospect, and while his junior-year numbers weren’t as dominant, the Red Sox selected him in the fifth round of the draft. Szefc thought he was under-drafted — “[He was the] 43rd right-handed pitcher taken in that draft,” he said, “and there’s no way on the face of this earth that there were 42 better right-handed pitchers than Mike Shawaryn that draft.
“Give the Red Sox credit. They drafted him. They did a good job of getting him there quick and he’s there getting outs for them in the Major Leagues. Shame on the rest of the clubs and good for the Red Sox.”
Shawaryn began his professional career with the Lowell Spinners in short-season Single-A ball. He was in the New York-Penn League, five minor-league levels away from the big leagues. If he wanted to get there, he had to grind it out.
“You’re playing long seasons and you’re constantly working and trying to get better,” Shawaryn said. “The biggest thing is to be mentally strong enough to be able to come to work every day. That just prepares you to get to this level where just because you’re here, it doesn't stop.”
It was a grind, but being in an organization like Boston made the experience rewarding, he said.
“I was fortunate enough to have really good teammates. I had a lot of fun throughout the years in the minors because of my teammates and the great group of guys that we have,” Shawaryn said. “I think that stems from the top. The Red Sox are very family-oriented, a very tight-knit group, and it trickles down to the minor leagues.”
With a few games under his belt, he’s established himself as a reliable bullpen arm for a team which came out of the gates struggling. He’s now one of a growing list of Maryland alums making waves in MLB, highlighted by Lowe, who’s a frontrunner for AL Rookie of the Year.
Lowe was one batter away from being Shawaryn’s first batter faced in the big leagues (he made the last out the inning prior). Their first showdown came in Shawaryn’s second appearance, marking the first time two Maryland alumni have faced off in an MLB game since Brett Cecil and Justin Maxwell in 2013.
Ironically enough, that plate appearance ended in a hit-by-pitch, but with both playing in the AL East, the two could match up several times in the coming years.
“Going through the minor leagues and spring training, we faced each other a pretty good amount,” Shawaryn said. “Between the lines, it’s all business, and outside the lines, we’re still friends, but we both have a job to do and we’re just trying to do it to the best of our abilities.”
While Shawaryn looked like a future major leaguer throughout his college career, getting to the show is always an accomplishment. Now that he’s up, “The Unicorn” is trying to enjoy his moment and make it last.
“I’m just trying to soak it all in. I’m trying to take as much as I possibly can,” Shawaryn said.” “Keep learning, keep working. There’s a lot of resources up here so I’m just gonna try and use all of it, continue to get better and hone in on my craft.”