SAN FRANCISCO -- When Major League Baseball released the 2019 schedule last August, Chris Shaw immediately circled September 17. Shaw grew up a few miles from Boston and lost count of how many times he sat in the cramped seats at Fenway Park while starring at Lexington High and Boston College.
Shaw took a big step toward accomplishing a lifelong dream when he was called up a few days after the schedule release, and he spent most of September getting regular time in the big leagues. With a new regime coming in and an increased focus on youth, Shaw's path to Fenway seemed relatively clear -- until a shocking phone call this spring.
It was not a surprise that Shaw did not break camp with the Giants. But teammates were stunned and disappointed when he started the year back in Double-A for the first time since the early months of 2017. Six months from the series in Boston, Shaw found himself buried on the depth chart.
"I had that thought many a time throughout the year," Shaw said. "It's not a thought you try and continue to have, but it is something that creeps in your mind, where you try and envision yourself being in Boston and not being with the team. That just would have crushed me."
That phone call from Farhan Zaidi could have crushed Shaw. Perhaps it would have for another player. It's unusual for a young player to hit 24 homers in Triple-A, earn a September promotion, and then find himself dropped two levels the next April, and the decision did not go unnoticed in the big league clubhouse. There was some confusion about Zaidi's methods early on, and Shaw's demotion was among the topics that veterans quietly grumbled about.
Shaw did not allow any anger to show, though. His teammates in Richmond raved about the leadership he showed, and Giants executives took note of the behind-the-scenes work Shaw was doing with younger players as he tried to make his own swing adjustments.
"A thing like that would have broken a lesser man, but Chris is the type of guy who sometimes you wonder if he's too good to be true with how he handles certain things," farm director Kyle Haines said. "He took it as a challenge. He went there on a mission to show that he wants to be not just in Triple-A, but in the big leagues. That's a great attitude to have. A lot of guys would have had some sour grapes, but Chris handled it as well as he possibly could."
When the Giants initially made the decision, they said Shaw needed to go back to Double-A because there wasn't enough playing time in a Triple-A outfield filled with imported lottery tickets. Zaidi told Shaw that Richmond would be a good place to get his bearings back, and insisted that the assignment was his fastest track back to the big leagues.
"As difficult as it was to do at the beginning of the year, I made Richmond my big leagues," Shaw said. "Going into the year I envisioned it going a little differently, obviously, but the year I had, this might be my favorite season I've ever had. There were so many times where it was just like, am I going to be able to get up? Am I going to be a Giant? There were so many times where it would have been easy to throw in the towel and been like, this isn't your year. But I truly believed I was going to get back here and I let that be my motivation every day."
Shaw played 45 games in Double-A before heading back to Sacramento. He showed improved plate discipline at both stops, cutting his strikeout rate by nine percent from his previous stint in Triple-A while hitting 28 homers across two levels.
The Giants called Shaw back up when rosters expanded September 1, and while he hasn't gotten much playing time, manager Bruce Bochy is well aware of what this trip means. He said he will try to get Shaw meaningful at-bats this week at Fenway, and Shaw was all smiles last week as he talked of the upcoming trip.
"This is something I've wanted since I started playing baseball," he said.
Those dreams blossomed in Lexington, a small town that's better known for being the location of the first shot fired in the Revolutionary War. Shaw joked that the entire city would show up at Fenway this week, and that might not be that far from the truth. On Wednesday, Lexington will celebrate "Chris Shaw Day," an honor that didn't seem possible at the end of the spring.
The Giants always were going to spend this week in Boston, and Shaw was, too. His trip included an unexpected detour, but when the team faces the Red Sox this week, Shaw will be in the dugout, not watching from his couch.
"Every single day I just wake up and it's just the best day of my life because I'm back in the big leagues," he said. "I'm just grateful to have this opportunity again. Last year in September, I don't know if I understood how fragile it is to be up here and how special it is.
"You get down to Richmond and you think, 'Oh crap, I was in the big leagues last year.' So now that I'm here again, I'm not going to let any opportunity go by. I'm just really enjoying it."