The Ralph S. O’Connor Center for Recreation and Well-Being, located on the campus of Johns Hopkins University, closes at midnight during the week—a reflection of the culture at the elite Baltimore college where many students hit the gym only after long days and nights of hitting the books.

One student, about a decade ago, pushed those limits even further.

“If you could get in before midnight, our baseball facility was in the basement,” Raul Shah recalled in a recent conversation. “So I could go down there (at about 11:45) and stay there the whole night. Nobody would ever check. I would blast music. The only people in there were the janitors and they didn’t know whether anybody was in there or not. 

“I would stay down there until 3, 4 a.m. every single night, and I would walk back to my dorm. And I’d rinse and repeat every single day.”

Now playing ball professionally, Raul, at age 29, keeps pushing limits, both his own and his sport’s. After playing second base last fall for Team Great Britain as it prevailed in a qualifying round to reach the World Baseball Classic, he is hoping to join the British club and become, it’s believed, the first player of full Indian descent to participate in the event.

“Not that I particularly look at that as some monumental achievement,” Raul said, “but I think with the World Baseball Classic, that's kind of a neat thing to sort of be the first one.”

Said Rajesh Shah, Raul’s father, of his son: “We instilled into him that nothing is impossible. From the beginning.”

* * *

Rajesh and Ranjana Shah both were born in India and, after marrying, decided to depart their native land for the Western Hemisphere. They made what amounted to a multi-year pitstop in the United Kingdom, and that’s where Raul was born, in Chatham, before they continued to the United States. As Rajesh, a doctor, worked to establish himself professionally in the family’s new home country, the Shahs first relocated to the Philadelphia area, then to Utah and finally settled in Ellicott City, Md.

It was in Philly, with Raul in elementary school, where the Shahs first developed an affinity for baseball.

“In India, our national game is cricket,” Rajesh Shah said. “So when I looked over here, I said, ‘Oh, there’s baseball, there's football, there’s basketball. But then cricket was very (similar) to baseball. So that’s how I started getting interested in baseball.”

The interest rubbed off on his son. “We introduced him to all sports: basketball, soccer. It was always baseball,” Ranjana Shah said of Raul. “Right from the beginning, it was always baseball. He was always very intense and passionate about it.”

That passion carried Raul all the way to Johns Hopkins—and then he realized he needed more. Said Raul: “When I got to college, I was like, ‘Oh, man, these guys are working way harder’ than what I was doing.” Which compelled him to endure the overnight sessions at JHU’s rec center, which improved his play to the point where he received a sniff from the Kansas City Royals, who passed on signing him after a workout.

“Once I graduated and I didn't get drafted or signed, that’s when I kicked it up another notch,” Raul said.

He has kicked his way into independent pro ball, quite an achievement for a Division III position player, climbing from the Canadian-American Association in 2019 to the All-American Baseball Challenge in 2020 to the Pioneer League in 2021 and topping out in 2022 with his local Southern Maryland Blue Crabs in the esteemed Atlantic League, a partner of Major League Baseball’s - sporting his BRUCE BOLT batting gloves for the entire ride. He could return to the Atlantic League this coming season.

In the offseason, Raul works out for about seven hours daily, he detailed: “Basically, I run track from 10 to 12. And then I go to the gym from 12 to 2. And then I have baseball practice from 7 to 10. I’ve tried to do other things too like make sure I eat healthy, get enough sleep, that kind of stuff on the side. Because that’s just as important.”

Having graduated Johns Hopkins with a degree in economics, Raul possesses career options that transcend the baseball diamond; he has distinguished himself with his financial insight on the crowdsourced website Seeking Alpha. Even better, the qualities that have carried him to the precipice of baseball groundbreaker status can easily carry over to whatever arena he chooses next. He always wants to be the hardest-working person around.

“I like it. I would rather be known for that than the hardest-throwing guy or the fastest guy,” Raul said. “Because everybody can control how hard they work. Whether you’re fast, slow, dumb, smart, I take a lot of pride in knowing, you know what? You got drafted higher than me. You run faster than me. You can hit the ball harder than me. But you won’t be known as a harder worker than me.”

“You can’t make somebody work,” Rajesh Shah said, turning down credit for his son’s dedication to diligence. “It has to come from the person.”

If Team Great Britain adds Raul to its tournament roster, Rajesh and Ranjana Shah will be in the stands at Chase Field in Phoenix, cheering on their son. They’ll have come quite a long way from India. And Raul will have received a chance to shine on the big stage, the ballpark far more crowded than the O’Connor Center after midnight, after clocking all of those necessary hours in the shadows.

Comments

  • Umesh Merchant said:

    What an achievement….. Raul.
    Congratulations!!
    Certainly proud moments for your parents.
    Our Best wishes Raul for your future success in your baseball professional career.

    February 16, 2023

  • Umesh Merchant said:

    What an achievement….. Raul.
    Congratulations!!
    Certainly proud moments for your parents.
    Our Best wishes Raul for your future success in your baseball professional career.

    February 16, 2023

  • Corky Pellien said:

    Character of a man is in this interview. Learning daily the only limitations one has a are the ones you out on yourself. Great read and thank you for the additional encouragement.

    February 16, 2023


Leave a comment

Stay in-the-know

×