The ball was hit into the gap in left-center field by Olympia High School’s Mark Flynn. Later, he said, “I thought it was a double.”
So did everyone else at the 2009 Pantagraph All-Star Baseball Game.
Playing his final game in a Normal Community uniform, Chad Hinshaw raced over from center field and turned Flynn’s drive into a diving, backhanded, jaw-dropping catch. Then, he hopped up and fired to first, doubling off a runner.
Those in the Horenberger Field stands were buzzing. If they didn’t say it, they thought it: “How did he get there?”
The question has come up frequently in four years as Illinois State’s ball-hawking center fielder. Now, the 6-foot-1, 205-pound Hinshaw is on the radar for this week’s Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.
No way to tell if he will be selected, but when you run like the wind and can reach top speed in two or three strides, you have a chance.
Hinshaw has covered a lot of ground since that June 2009 night, but that’s what he does. It’s what he’s always done.
He grew up in a neighborhood filled with kids. Many were older, bigger, stronger. None was faster.
Often they played kickball in the cul-de-sac in front of his house. Make contact and he was off in a heartbeat, circling the bases (i.e. curbs, mailboxes, etc.) before you could say, “How old is he?”
Occasionally, the game was Capture the Flag. Hinshaw was a blur. If you got scholarships at 8, 9, 10 years old for capturing a flag, he would have been the youngest recruit ever.
Much of the speed was natural, a gift. Some was by necessity. When you’re the youngest of three boys, you have to keep up. They’re not going to wait for you.
Hinshaw has been in overdrive ever since.
His acceleration showed up on the football field as a standout receiver, defensive back and punt/kickoff return man at NCHS. In baseball, it translates to legging out hits, turning doubles to triples, stealing bases (he has the most in ISU history) and, yes, running down fly balls.
Veteran coach Chris Hawkins of Unit 5 rival Normal West called Hinshaw “one of the best high school players I’ve ever seen in person.” That was moments after the Intercity MVP had complemented his spectacular All-Star Game catch with three hits, two runs scored and two RBIs.
Hinshaw had batted .573 that spring. His career average was .275 at ISU, but with on-base percentages of .424, .382, .442 and .364 in his four seasons.
Defensively, he had 13 outfield assists and seven errors in 552 career chances, a .987 fielding percentage. Included were three seasons without an error.
Who knows what it all will mean later this week. The draft is Thursday through Saturday, and often whether a player is chosen boils down to who was watching on a particular day.
Scouts make it to a lot of games, but they cannot see everything. Like the fact that in high school, Hinshaw would lift weights in his garage before school, or late at night, or both.
Natural ability is part of his story. Desire and dedication have a place as well.
Here’s hoping it pays off in a professional contract. He has given himself a chance, and signs came early something like that could happen.
From the start, he was the fastest kid in the neighborhood.
My house was across the street.