‘Get it to Goose’: Inside Shawn Goosenberg’s emergence as Northwestern’s best batter
May 13, 2021
In Northwestern’s fall hitting competitions, Shawn Goosenberg wanted to be at the plate during pivotal moments.
The Wildcats’ coaches knew it, too, so they allowed Goosenberg to draft the teams and manipulate the lineups to make himself the batter facing the most high-pressure situations.
“I get a little more amped up in late-game inning situations when I know I have a chance with one swing to end the game or to really make an impact,” Goosenberg said. “That level of focus in those situations and clutch moments, I just feel myself become extra locked in.”
In the midst of a breakout junior season, Goosenberg has seen his practice reps pay off at the plate. On an NU team that still leads the conference in home runs – even while missing two series due to health and safety concerns– the star shortstop has hit a team-high 11 homers through 28 games, including three go-ahead or walk-off shots.
When it comes to Goosenberg’s talent, coach Spencer Allen doesn’t mince words.
“He’s the best hitter I’ve ever coached,” Allen said.
Signs of stardom
Growing up in Encino, Calif., Goosenberg began playing organized sports as a 5-year-old. Sports gave him the opportunity to be a part of a team, to follow in the footsteps of his older brother and simply to have something to do. His early experiences in baseball, basketball and football led him to realize he wanted to continue playing as long as he could.
In high school, Goosenberg slimmed down his options and chose to pursue his most promising sport: baseball. He was a part of the varsity team at Calabasas High School for three years and flashed his potential in his senior season, improving from no home runs his junior year to nine and batting .400.
Eric Holtz, the head coach of Team USA at the 2017 Maccabiah Games, first saw Goosenberg at a tryout in the Calabasas area. By the end of the day, Holtz knew Goosenberg had to be on his Maccabiah Games squad.
“Even as a younger guy, his athleticism and quiet kind of confidence about him just stood out,” Holtz said. “I normally go through the entire trial process before I commit to anybody, but I don’t think I left the field that day and I had told both him and his father that I wanted him to be with me. He was just that good.”
At the Maccabiah Games, Goosenberg won MVP honors and helped Team USA win a gold medal. Across five games, he hit .529 at the plate and displayed his range as a fielder.
“Goose was just out of his body,” Holtz said. “He was just doing things where my assistant coach and I would just look at each other — diving plays, where you’re already thinking ahead of the situation and you know where your body is in space and time. There were certain things you just can’t teach.”
The Road to Evanston
Despite stellar performances overseas and at Calabasas High, Goosenberg’s slight 6-foot-1, 180-pound frame and modest statistics made for a quiet college recruiting process. When his coaches got in contact with the staff at NU, Goosenberg jumped at the chance to attend a top academic school and play baseball in the Big Ten.
Entering his first year with the Cats, Goosenberg wanted to make an immediate impact.
By the second month of the 2019 season, Goosenberg was a regular in the Cats’ lineup. He finished the year with a .288 batting average and was selected to the All-Big Ten Freshman Team and All-Big Ten Third Team, even as NU finished 23-27 overall and ninth in the Big Ten.
Goosenberg continued his upward trajectory in the beginning of his sophomore season, translating offseason work in the weight room into tangible offensive improvements. Then, COVID-19 cut the Cats’ season short after just 13 games.
Despite the pandemic, Goosenberg worked on his game over the summer, continuing his training regimen and competing for the Kalamazoo Mac Daddies in the Northwoods League in Kalamazoo, Mich.
“I was just looking forward to the next season, trying not to think too much about what we lost out on and just focus on the next time I was going to get to play,” Goosenberg said.
After nearly a year off, NU returned to the diamond in March to start off an abbreviated, conference-only schedule. Goosenberg struggled toward the start of the season, hitting just .185 through the Cats’ first seven games.
That all changed on March 14. NU was down 4-5 in the bottom of the ninth against Michigan State and needed a momentum shift to pull off its first series victory of the season.
From there, Goosenberg took over. He launched a walk-off, three-run shot over the “Green Monster” of Greenville Drive’s Fluor Field, securing a win for the Cats and kicking off a prolific month at the plate for the junior shortstop.
Goosenberg earned his first Big Ten Player of the Week honors for his performances against in-state rival Illinois in March, mashing three homers in three games in another NU series win. Two weeks later, he raised the bar yet again. In another Player of the Week performance, the California native tallied four homers, including a walk-off against Rutgers in the Cats’ first home game in almost two years.
In the decisive third game against Rutgers, NU faced a 5-1 deficit with three outs left. With the Cats nearing Goosenberg’s spot in the lineup, Allen knew the strategy.
“Before the inning, Coach goes, “Let’s get this thing to Goose, you’ve seen what’s happened before,” said junior first baseman Anthony Calarco, Goosenberg’s longtime roommate. “I was able to get on and right when I got on base, I knew what was gonna happen.”
Goosenberg took the 2-2 pitch deep to left for a two-run shot, sending the game into extra innings. NU’s lineup was unable to get it back to their shortstop, losing the game 6-5 and falling in the series.
Through 28 games, Goosenberg’s statistics underscore his offensive dominance. He ranks second in the Big Ten in home runs and sixth in hits, though his inconsistent fielding has put him at the top of another category. Goosenberg is tied for first in errors, primarily due to inaccurate throws to first base, which he acknowledges have been game-altering.
Goosenberg’s home run binge comes after he hit just one homer across his first two seasons playing for the Cats. Rather than pointing to a different approach, he credits his weight training and efforts to eradicate his backspin.
“It’s the same approach, just trying to hit the ball as hard as I can, line drives at the centerfield wall,” Goosenberg said. “It’s the extra strength I’ve gotten over the last couple of years, in addition to being able to hit the ball with better spin.”
A learning and organizational change major, Goosenberg plans to graduate early but stick around Evanston for an extra year to pursue a master’s degree in sports administration. After that, he hopes to continue his craft at the professional level.
Holtz, now the manager for Team Israel at the upcoming Summer Olympics and no stranger to professional baseball, sees even greater heights ahead for his former player.
“He’s got a shot to do some special stuff after Northwestern,” Holtz said. “Like any 17-year-old, he needed to get a little bit bigger and stronger and he has, now as a 21-year-old kid. I mean, the sky’s the limit for him.”
Right now, though, Goosenberg’s focus is on lifting the 12-16 Cats to their first winning record since 2000 and continuing to get in opponents’ heads.
“It’s really nice having a guy that, when he comes up to bat, the other team’s thinking about it,” senior pitcher Quinn Lavelle said. “He can definitely do damage.”
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