Territorial Expansion

If one's back is to the wall it usually means bad luck.

Such is not the case with Shane Belliston, the Cougars' returning centerfielder. He has played with his back to the fence which has now been moved and is joined by a hot-swinging outfielder who has transferred to BYU.

As phase one of a new stadium begins, the wall is back 10 feet in centerfield where Belliston starred last year as a transfer himself. Now the 6-0 junior from Orem will be joined by Stanford senior transfer Nick Day, who was two years of College World Series experience.

Belliston turned in 99 plays last year to put out opponents, including two assists. One of those assists came from a double play he turned against TCU in Provo.

"It was a shallow hit and I caught it on the dead run," recalls Belliston. "I heard someone yell `first.' It was exciting to end the inning."

Belliston is BYU's leading returning hitter at .341, serving as the lead-off batter in most of his 52 starts. His 76 hits, 57 runs, 18 doubles and eight stolen bases are a testament of his base-running speed which he perfects through doing track drills.

He attributes his throwing skills to swimming. His sister, Melissa is co-captain of BYU's swimming team and swimming has been a family sport.

"Swimming has helped me with my throwing because my shoulders have always been strong," says Belliston.

He started swimming competitively as a five-year-old and continued until he was 12 when baseball took over. "I still race my sisters in swimming," says Shane.

In 1994 at a family reunion at Lake Blaine in Alberta, there were about 20 relatives swimming in the water. The call came for a race to the shore.

"There was no way I was going to let my sisters finish and me not," says Shane of that swimming race. His shared love for swimming came from his Canadian-born mother, Candice Brown, who was a Cougarette.

Shane's love for baseball came primarily from his father, Richard, who served six years as basketball coach at Orem High School and five years as baseball coach. Until recently, he was a baseball scout for the St. Louis Cardinals.

Cardinal Hall of Famer Stan Musial was Shane's idol. Musial, who also bats left, wore jersey number six, so Shane chose that number in honor of him. Six was also the number of his father, Richard, and grandfather, Paul Belliston, when they played baseball for BYU.

Shane wore the number six in summer league games. He still has his first jersey when he played for the "Padres" as a fourth-grader. He was coached throughout Little League by his Dad and was a southpaw pitcher.

This season Shane switched from the number 22 to the number six, which was worn last year by now-departed shortstop Brent Howes. Howes already had a claim to the number six when Shane transferred last season from Utah Valley State College.

Shane played one year at UVSC, after returning from a Spanish-speaking mission to New Jersey. In New Jersey he taught only one missionary discussion in English and averaged three to five other daily lessons in Spanish.

Last summer he was again in New Jersey, this time with his parents, wife, and a sister on a trip to visit his mom's sister in Virginia. They also took in the sights of New York.

As a missionary back East in New Jersey, Shane taught missionary lessons to a AAA player from the Dominican Republic. And he found out about some words his father used to motivate him as a youngster.

"Whenever he caught me playing Nintendo he would say there was some kid back East playing baseball or basketball every day," says Shane.

Shane responded to his father's goading. The duo would wake up early before school and go to the gym to shoot free throws so that Shane could be an 85 percent shooter from the stripe for the OHS Tigers.

"After he shagged basketballs, he would throw to me every day," says Shane of his father who played one year in the Chicago White Sox system after graduating from BYU in 1971--the last year the Cougars went to the College World Series.

"My dad is my biggest critic, but he is also my biggest fan," says Shane. "The hardest part of last year was when I was striking out. It drove me and my dad nuts. I was overly-aggressive and chased bad pitches."

One pitch Shane chased last year off of pro signee Nick Roberts at Southern Utah University went for a home run, the first of two homers that day for Belliston.

"The wind was swirling and he threw me a fastball," says Belliston of the homer that cleared the left field fence.

"I think of myself as a lead-off guy, not a home run hitter. I take pride in spending time on my speed and doing a lot of lifting."

That commitment helped him establish a UVSC record in 1998 when he hit safely in 23 consecutive games. He went into that streak batting .267 and emerged with a .362 mark.

Shane only played one season at UVSC, having redshirted the 1997 season. Because he left on his mission after high school, he had only two weeks to get ready to play baseball at UVSC after returning from a mission, so he redshirted.

"My mission was something I knew was right," says Shane, who entered the Missionary Training Center a month before his 19th birthday. "It was best for me to go right away if I ever had the dream of signing to play pro baseball."

During his redshirt season he met his future wife, Megan Partridge, while both were enrolled in an English 110 class.

"The year I played at UVSC was one of the most fun I have had," says Shane. "I don't regret having played there only one season. It was time for me to move on."

Some division two schools and programs like Nebraska and Fresno State were in the baseball market for Shane, but he opted to become a third-generation Cougar.

He has gained 30 pounds since returning from his mission and is now playing at 180. That's a vast improvement over the 140 pounds he weighed as a 5-10 prepster.

"He was an average player and student who refused to be average in high school," says Terry Harward, his former prep baseball coach and math teacher. "He took more practice swings than everyone else. When teammates left, then his dad would throw to him some more.

"He worked harder than everyone else. He was as hard-working in math as he was in baseball."

Belliston started as a sophomore for Orem High. He improved his footwork by playing basketball, which gave him a break from playing baseball.

Competitiveness, dedication and a hard-work ethic helped Shane make himself a threat on the collegiate level, much like his new coach Vance Law. Last summer when his hope to play baseball in Alaska didn't materialize, he worked out on his own by lifting four times a week, sold shoes at a mall and made the jersies for the BYU women's soccer team.

While the new outfield distances of 385 in the power alleys and 400-feet in Belliston's centerfield are a boon to Cougar pitchers, it should help Shane demonstrate his defensive tools.

BYU opens the season next week when it plays at Arizona State and Arizona. A three-game series follows at Alabama before the Cougars return to open the home season on March 17 against Air Force.

If Belliston doesn't turn pro, he'll play in BYU's new stadium in 2001.