Smith, Dunston Look To Make Their Own Name
Big league sons out to prove themselves
Baseball is generational. The game has featured many famous pairs of fathers and sons throughout the years and some of the game's biggest stars are the sons of former players: Ken Griffey Jr., Barry Bonds, Cal Ripken Jr., Roberto Alomar and Prince Fielder, to name a few.
The draft is always littered with sons of former players, and this year has two in particular who share a unique bond. Outfielders Dwight Smith Jr. (from McIntosh High in Peachtree City, Ga.) and Shawon Dunston Jr. (from Valley Christian High in San Jose) both have fathers of the same name that played together with the Cubs from 1989-1993. The two were more than just teammates.
"Shawon has to be one of the biggest inspirations in my major league career," Smith said. "I mean, he took care of me at an early age. I was in Peoria, in A-ball, after losing my mother and he was there for me. And then in my first callup, I stayed with him and what he did for me, I'll never forget for the rest of my life. He's like a brother to me and I'll always be indebted to him for that."
"I remember my dad and mom telling me, 'Dwight has a son your age that plays baseball,' " Shawon Dunston Jr. said. "I heard about him two years ago and then we finally met last summer."
Dwight Jr. and Shawon Jr. first met this year at the Perfect Game National Showcase at Tropicana Field in Tampa.
"It seemed like we just knew each other and had been best friends forever," Smith Jr. said.
The two stayed in touch throughout the spring via Facebook and text messages.
Big Names, Bigger Targets
Shawon Dunston Jr. (Photo by Jesse Soll)
Dunston was the No. 1overall pick in the 1982 draft by the Cubs and spent 18 years in the big leagues, mostly as the shortstop at Wrigley Field. Smith was a third-round pick in 1984 and had an eight-year major league career.
Having dads with resumes like that is a blessing and a curse. The younger players benefit from the genetics passed on, and they always have a great teacher in the house if they need advice on hitting mechanics or what to expect at the next level. But there are also the lofty expectations of trying to live up to the name on the back of their jersey.
"Some people think I take it for granted and think that just because I'm a big leaguer's son that I should be good," Smith Jr. said. "But it doesn't always work like that. You still have to work hard to get to the level you want to be at."
"He's had a target on his back since he was 7 years old," Smith said of his son. "It's almost a can't-win situation: If you can't hit, you suck because your dad's in the big leagues and you can't hit. If you can hit, well that's no fair, your daddy taught you. But I always tell him to tell people, 'I love my daddy and I listen to what he's taught me and I've got a little bit of ability, but he hasn't taken one swing for me.' "
Dunston Jr. echoed those challenges.
"There's definitely pressure because of who my dad was and how he played the game for a long time," he said. "People do compare me and my dad, but I can't really do anything about it. We do have some similarities—we're both athletic and we can both run. My arm isn't as good as his yet, but it's getting there. I do what he's taught me since I was little, but I just try to play my game and be Shawon Jr., because I'm not my dad."
Dunston said he sees some of himself in his son, even when things aren't going so well.
"When he's struggling, like, when he's 0-for-2 and he's coming up, I can see that he's thinking about swinging at the first pitch his next AB," Dunston said. "That's being young and because he wants to be successful so bad. And when he does do it, and he realizes it wasn't the pitch, he gets mad at himself and he's hard on himself.
"So after the game we talk about it and I tell him, 'I knew you were going to swing at it, and so did mommy, because you were in such a rush to be successful.' But that's OK, because that's how daddy played."
Just The Beginning
Dunston Jr. has a slender, 6-foot-2, 175-pound frame, and it's obvious that his best baseball is in front of him. He is an above-average runner, which helps both on the bases and in center field. Unlike his father, he swings from the left side of the plate and, as he fills out, he could grow into gap power and be an average hitter.
Scouts love Dunston Jr.'s passion for the game, which comes from his father.
"I just tell him to play hard," Dunston said. "Just give it your all. When you give it your all, good things happen. I don't like hot dogs. I hate showboats. I don't want him playing like that. When I played, I loved playing against the guy that would rather look good than play good because I know what's important to him is looking good. . . I raised my son old-school."
Dunston Jr. was drafted in the 11th round by the Cubs this year. He slipped some because he's still a little raw, didn't have a great spring and has a strong commitment to Vanderbilt. It's a long way from San Jose to Nashville, but if Dunston ends up at Vanderbilt, he'll have family nearby. His sister Jasmine plays softball at Tennessee State.
Dwight Smith Jr. (Photo by David Stoner)
Smith Jr. has tools and a game that resemble his father's. His best tool is his bat, as he owns a pure stroke that ranks among the best in this year's draft class. He features a prominent leg kick at the plate, yet always seems to be on time and gets his bat into the hitting zone for a long time.
Smith Jr. has a bit less speed than his dad and may wind up a below-average runner when it's all said and done, pushing him from center field to a corner. He has enough arm strength to make right field a possibility, but a move to a corner will put more pressure on his bat. He has solid power and projects to have average raw power.
Smith Jr. was picked in the supplemental first round by the Blue Jays, 53rd-overall. If he doesn't sign, he's committed to Georgia Tech.
Getting picked is just the beginning, though.
"The draft is a beautiful day, but it is what it is—one day," Smith said. "People aren't going to remember where you're drafted, they're going to remember how many years you play in the big leagues."