When he walked across the stage earlier this year and received his diploma in government studies from Harvard, Shawn Haviland likely could have had his pick of high-paying jobs with the U.S. government, influential political think tanks, or prestigious law firms.
Instead, the 22-year-old from Farmington, Connecticut, opted to come across the continent to Vancouver to begin life after university at the lowest rung of a remarkably different career ladder.
Haviland is a rookie right-handed pitcher with the Vancouver Canadians who has spent the summer getting an education of another sort: learning what it takes to play baseball for a living.
And although his monthly minor-league pittance doesn’t come close to the kind of cash he could be making in a corporate setting, he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Pro ball is the best,” he told the Straight in an interview before a recent Cs game at Nat Bailey Stadium. “The only thing I have to worry about is rolling out of bed before noon and getting to the ballpark. So no complaints there.”
Haviland knows that had he taken the fast track to the business world and joined the rat race right out of school, he would have been expected to work long hours, and he’d almost certainly have had to wear a suit and tie. So far, he prefers wearing a ball cap and spikes and staring down hitters from the pitcher’s mound.
“I get to do the thing I’ve been dreaming about my entire life in an awesome city—I love Vancouver,” he says. “The competition has been great; the guys have been great. It’s been an unbelievable experience.”
Haviland’s baseball odyssey began when he was selected by the Oakland Athletics, the Canadians’ parent club, in the 33rd round of this year’s amateur draft. Having been scouted during his time in college, the personable and well-spoken 6-2, 200 pounder figured he’d be chosen, but he had no inkling that Oakland would be the team to take him.
“That was the coolest part. I thought beforehand I might get drafted by an East Coast team because that’s who was looking at me the most,” Haviland explains. “Then I found out it was the A’s, and then going to Vancouver, a place I probably would never have visited. But now I’m glad I got to spend a lot of time here. Baseball can bring you all different places, and Vancouver has been one of the best places I’ve gone because of baseball.”
Haviland started the year in a relief role for the Canadians but worked his way into the starting rotation midway through the season and managed to hold on to his spot there. On August 18, he turned in his best showing of the season, striking out 10 batters in just over four innings of work.
He credits his rapid improvement to veteran manager Rick Magnante and the Canadians’ coaching staff.
“Skip [skipper Magnante] has been great,” Haviland says. “He’s the perfect manager for this team. He’s positive and upbeat. I had a lot to learn about bumping up my velocity and throwing strikes a little better. It’s been great working with [them].”
Although Haviland has developed under the watchful eye of the coaching staff here, his early career progression has also been followed closely by his father, Tim, once a talented baseball player in his own right at the University of Connecticut.
“My dad flies in for most of my starts,” he says. “So that’s been pretty cool. At first, when I was out of the bullpen, it was hard to know when I’d be pitching. But now he’s been here for most of my starts. He’s only missed two or three times I’ve pitched since I was nine years old. So it’s always good to have him here.”
The Canadians’ Northwest League season is just about over, and Haviland’s stay in this city may be done as well. That’s the nature of the beast in minor-league baseball. Players may be fond of their surroundings, but they’re always hoping for a promotion in the organization and are never really happy until they reach the big leagues.
When the Cs’ schedule ends on September 3, Haviland will probably head back to Connecticut for a week to reconnect with family, friends, and his girlfriend, but he likely won’t unpack his suitcases. He’ll soon hit the road again to continue his development with the A’s in the Arizona instructional league.
Along the way, he’ll do his best to check in with some of his former Harvard classmates to see where they ended up and what his life might have been like without baseball. Some day, Haviland will likely find out for himself what it’s like to hold down a day job. But he wants to see how far he can go in his chosen sport, safe in the knowledge he’s got an exceptional education to put to good use as a Plan B.
“That’s the best part about going to Harvard,” he says of his degree. “When I have to stop playing baseball—and they’re going to have to rip the ball out of my hand when I stop playing—I’ll have something to fall back on to get a job, and probably a pretty good job. A lot of my friends were applying for jobs all throughout the year, but I didn’t have to worry about that because I get to play baseball. You can’t beat that. When baseball is your job, that’s a pretty awesome thing.”
Haviland’s story is one that’s bound to be both long and prosperous. It’s just a question of whether his success will come on the baseball diamond or in the boardroom—or, quite possibly, both.