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Visalia Rawhide manager’s journey through baseball

Adrian Luevano

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Since the third grade, Shelley Duncan knew his fate was it baseball.

“When I was 8 to 10 years old, that’s when I knew I wanted to do something in baseball,” Duncan said. “I had an interest in the management, front office, coaching, and just everything you can think of.”

The Visalia Rawhide’s first year skipper is no stranger to baseball. Duncan played seven seasons of Major League Baseball with the New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians, and Tampa Bay Rays.

Duncan’s father, Dave Duncan, was Tony La Russa’s pitching coach from 1986 to 1995 for the Oakland Athletics. Listening to the duo on team planes, meetings, and on the field that shaped Duncan’s managing style.

The Tuscon, Arizona native credits his dad for always encouraging him to have an open mind for learning.

“There is so much advice my dad has given me,” Duncan said. “He told me ‘You always learn from your mistakes and to never be afraid to fail,’ and those are the things that stick with me the most.”

When Duncan was 15 years old, he got his first taste in managing. Duncan’s little league coach allowed him to hone his craft due to his inability to be at games for first pitch.

“Our little league coach was always late, because of work,” Duncan said. “We would have 4 p.m. games and he would show up at 5 p.m. He would leave me the duties of setting up the lineup, hitting infield/outfield, and just getting the team going. I always had managing in me.”

After Duncan’s first assistant coaching job with the Arizona Wildcats -his alma mater- during fall ball, he wrote a letter to every single MLB organization. The letter expressed his interest in pursuing a managerial role.

The team that responded back: The Arizona Diamondbacks.

“I wanted everyone to know, that managing is what I wanted to do,” Duncan said. “The reasoning was, one day a team would have a spot open up, and they already knew I was available.”

It goes full circle for La Russa, Shelley, and Dave Duncan.

In November of 2013, Dave joined the Diamondbacks as a pitching consultant. In May of 2014, La Russa accepted the position of Chief Baseball Officer for the Diamondbacks.

Duncan’s first year of managing came in 2015 with Arizona’s short-season Class-A affiliate, Hillsboro Hops, in Oregon.

In his two seasons with the Hops, Duncan led the club to a combined record of 87-64. He also managed the team to a Northwest League championship in 2015.

After the two years in Hillsboro, Duncan felt he was ready to take the next step in his managerial career. He got a phone call earlier this year, saying he was being promoted to Visalia, and he could not be happier.

“I was always itching to get to a full season,” Duncan said. “I’ve always heard great things about this level and organization. I let out a Woo! Alright! When I knew I was coming to Visalia.”

So far for Duncan, the Rawhide have gotten off to a 18-16 start and are currently in second place in the California League North Division.

“We’ve been playing hard,” Duncan said. “We have great pieces in place, and with that, we feel like we can compete with anyone. We never feel like the game is over. That’s a special team character to have.”

Duncan is quick to shoot down guaranteeing a California League championship. He wants the players to play with attitude every single game, and believes good things will happen if they do.

“I want us to play smart, aggressive, and to never be afraid of failure,” Duncan said of his team philosophy. “I truly believe if we have that attitude, wins and success will come of it.

“Our job in this organization is to develop championship caliber players for the Arizona Diamondbacks. I love seeing a player be better tomorrow, than he was yesterday. That gives me more of a thrill than anything else.”

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Visalia Rawhide manager’s journey through baseball