LOWELL — There are times when the pressures of baseball become overwhelming for Lowell's Mookie Betts.
"Sometimes I just don't know what to think," said Betts. "Some days I just don't want to play anymore. That's when I need to talk to my uncle the most. He makes me feel like I can get through anything."
For Betts, just one call away is the ultimate baseball resource, his uncle, former Red Sox player Terry Shumpert.
Last night, Betts kicked off his lifelong dream of following in the footsteps of his uncle into professional baseball as the starting shortstop for the Lowell Spinners. He went 1 for 4 with a sharp single, stole a base and scored the tying run for the Spinners in a 2-1 opening day victory over the Connecticut Tigers.
"We talk just about every day about baseball and what's going on," said Shumpert from his Colorado home. "He wants to be coached and to talk through the game. He listens because he wants to be the best player he can be."
Baseball was Betts' life as a child. Part of a very close family, he spent much of his summers around his uncle at the ballpark during Shumpert's 14-year (1990-2003) major league career.
"He was out there with me in Tampa Bay and Colorado and Atlanta taking batting practice and ground balls pretty much every day," said Shumpert. "Even though he wasn't my son, he was always around the big leagues, in the clubhouse, and I think that was a huge experience."
As he grew, Betts became a multi-sport star. In baseball, he was a Louisville Slugger High School All-American as a senior at Overton (Tenn.) High, hitting .509 with eight triples and 58 runs.
The 5-foot-9 speedster was also the starting point guard for the basketball team, averaging 14.4 points a game and leading Overton to the District 12-AAA championship. He was even a star bowler, earning The Tennessean of Nashville's bowler of the year honors in 2010.
"Bowling was where I first learned about competition," Betts said with a laugh. "We would have family feuds bowling. We still bowl in the offseason."
Betts initially committed to play baseball at the University of Tennessee, but the Red Sox still selected the projected second-round pick in the fifth round of the 2011 draft.
It took right to the deadline, literally, for Betts to decide if he would go pro or become a Volunteer.
"I didn't make a decision until there was about 30 minutes left until the (signing) deadline," said Betts. "I was sitting with my mom and dad and just didn't know. But, at the last minute I decided that was what I wanted to do. I didn't want to write any more papers."
Betts, who received a $750,000 signing bonus, reported to extended spring training for the rest of 2011 and all of 2012 before the start of the Spinners season.
Just as he was for Betts in high school, Shumpert was on speed dial.
"I call him every day and we talk about how I hit batting practice and how I took ground balls," said Betts, whose cousin is NFL defensive back George Wilson, a member of the Buffalo Bills since 2005. "He always has something new for me to try. He has been through it all."
There isn't much Shumpert didn't see over his MLB career. He played for eight organizations, including twice with the Red Sox (1995 and 2004), was released four times and played in 854 major league games.
"When you get to professional baseball, it's a really eye-opening experience," said Shumpert. "When I first started, there were three players ahead of me, and I wondered why they bothered to draft me. Similarly, Boston selected a shortstop in the first round of the (2012) draft, so we talked about that.
"There are always going to be people in front of you. But I tell him you can't control that. You can only control you. I remind him baseball is a grind. It's a marathon. I started my career 0 for 17. You have to keep grinding."
Whether it was his outstanding backhand and throw from deep in the hole at shortstop in the fourth or his error in the third, he planned to dissect the game with his uncle.
"He tells me the ways to get through the challenges," said Betts. "He reminds me to stay calm and enjoy the game. I knew this is what I wanted to do, and I am excited to be doing it."
See his story
For video of Mookie Betts talking about his journey to professional baseball, visit eagletribune.com/sports.