CARBONDALE (WSIL) -- Derek Shelton was born in Carbondale, Illinois and would later play baseball for Southern Illinois University-Carbondale. On Friday, July 24th, Derek made is Major League Baseball managerial debut with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Gene Green and Derek Shelton developed a strong friendship back when Gene was the media relations director for SIU baseball and Derek a good catch and throw catcher who’d later sign with the Yankees.
“He’s a guy I used to sit next to on long bus rides or eat lunch with when we’d be on the road,” Green said. “We just bonded very quickly and one of the biggest complements I can give Derek Shelton is at least with me and a lot of people he knows from back in those days, if he walked in right now now, he’d be no different than it was thirty years ago when we first met. He’s not forgotten where, it’s kind of a trite expression but he’s not forgotten where he came from and hes people skills and the way he handles individuals around him are off the charts and make no mistake that’s one reason he’s managing in the big leagues right now. You can’t find one person that’s encountered him in the big leagues along the way that just about doesn’t glow about his personality the way he handles people. I think that’ll really allow him to go a long way. Derek is the first SIU grad to ever be a manager or a head coach in a pro sport. He’s the first.”
Family and SIU are near and dear to Derek Shelton and it’s evident in his managing style.
“Had great coaching from his dad and then he came to SIU. He was coached by Itchy Jones who is of course is an SIU legend so I know Derek looks back at his dad and Itch as huge mentors in this whole journey and they are all proud of him and I think you’ll see a lot of things as him as a manager if you know him. You’ll see a lot of things from Itch, you’ll see a lot of stuff the kind of way Ron handled himself too to that he’s just picked up over the years. I think it’s a formula that’s really going to work for him.”
Another former Saluki that was influential on Derek was former New York Yankees executive Mark Newman. He was instrumental early on in Derek’s coaching career, and Derek took to analytics well before it really took off in today’s current game.
“One interesting thing about Mark Newman if I can share this, and this is not a guy that gives out accolades easily. I was talking to him when I was doing a story on him in the magazine on Derek and almost done with the interview. He stopped me and said Gene let me just tell you one more thing. He said I don’t know when, but I will tell you right now Derek Shelton will manage in the big leagues. And I was kind of taken back by that not because I didn’t think that could happen some day but for Mark to say that fifteen years ago, he was sure of Derek Shelton’s ability fifteen years ago to tell me tat he knew it was going to be in print and it certainly came to pass but I’m sure Mark is very proud of Derek as well.”
Gene has known Derek a long time. Here’s one of his favorite stories.
“I get a call one day and it’s Derek. He’s in the middle of North Carolina somewhere. He’s just checking in and said I almost had to pull over to the side of the road. He said I just got the call from Cleveland and said they are asking me to come to Cleveland as soon as possible, they are naming me their big league hitting coach. I said that’s great but he said I’ve got to kind of grab myself right now because it’s a little crazy because he said I had zero hits in the big leagues and I’m replacing Eddie Murray who’s a hall of famer and had more than three-thousand. He kind of laughed about it. He has good self-effacing humor in that regard, but he made an immediate impact with Cleveland, they won their division that year and so that’s how he started.”
Pete Peterson is a retired SIU professor but also a Pittsburgh native and Pirates historian. Over the last twenty years, Pete has written several books and lots of articles on former and current Pirates players and teams. I asked Pete what does Derek need to know to fit in Pittsburgh. He gave me a fun answer.
“He is going to have to learn how to speak Pittsburghese," Peterson said. "It’s a language all on to itself. He’s going to have to learn that if you are from Pittsburgh, you have a very lazy way of speaking or working class Pittsburghers would say we don’t have time to mess with language, so we cut it short. Derek Shelton is not going to eat potato chips in Pittsburgh. He’s going to eat tata chips, he’s not going to drink Iron City beer, he’s going to drink Ahrn City beer. When he see’s someone and says how are you, he’s going to have to learn to say how are yinz? So instead of you, the most common and most popular word in Pittsburgh and most defines the vocabulary is yinz. If he wants to talk about more than one person he’ll just say yinzez. There’s an entire vocabulary for him to learn and the fortunate thing is, it doesn’t take much to learn it because it’s such a goofy, lazy way of speaking.”