This story appeared in Volume 6, Issue 2 of Hail Varsity. To read more great stories like this, subscribe here.
Erstad was the first player selected in the 1995 Major League Baseball Draft.
Alvie Shepherd was the 21st. Both were Nebraska juniors. And both signed.
know Erstad’s story. But Shepherd’s?
was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles, though because of the effects of the
players’ strike that cut short the 1994 season and delayed the start of 1995’s,
didn’t start playing until 1996. But first . . .
Huskers’ team batting average in 1995 was .323, led by Erstad, who hit .410
with 19 home runs and 79 runs batted in, also team-leading numbers. Shepherd,
who typically batted sixth in the order, hit .343 with 12 home runs and 70
RBIs. “I would put our offensive team up against any offensive team that’s ever
played college baseball,” said Shepherd, who also pitched.
was the problem. Nebraska’s pitching was inconsistent, with a team ERA of 6.40.
just couldn’t get outs in key moments, and that’s kind of what did us in,”
pitched as well as played first base and spent time as the designated hitter.
In fact, he was recruited by Husker Coach John Sanders as a pitcher, the
position at which he was drafted and the only position he played as a freshman.
stood 6-foot-7, weighed about 220 pounds and had a fastball that registered as
high as 98 miles-per-hour on a radar gun. His size and raw talent attracted the
years later, Shepherd weighs about the same, but he’s in better physical shape,
and he’s in dramatically better mental and emotional shape than he was a little
over three years ago.
weighed 307 pounds. His professional baseball career had lasted barely three
seasons, during which he played for teams in six minor leagues. Late in his
second season, with the Bowie Baysox of the Class AA Eastern League, it
appeared he would be called up by the Orioles.
days after what he calls his best professional performance, a team photographer
retrieved a ball for one of his teammates and threw it – except that it hit
Shepherd in the back of his right shoulder. The next day, the shoulder was so
stiff Shepherd had to cut short a bullpen session and the day after that, the
shoulder “locked up,” enough so that Shepherd met with a doctor.
had to shut down, and there would be no call-up. His promising career went in a
downward spiral. He rehabbed, came back, was released by the Orioles and picked
up by the Angels. He underwent surgery and tried to battle back. But his
fastball no longer topped out at 98, or even close. The Angels released him,
and the Mets picked him up, only to release him near the end of spring training
there, Shepherd’s life spiraled downward, 13 years-worth, with alcohol and
drugs, pain and depression, to such a degree that he considered suicide.
was a “slippery slope,” he said. He had let down everyone, including his
the bottom of the slope, Shepherd began to pray. And his prayers were answered.
He suffered a brain aneurysm and nearly died.
I woke up after I had surgery, I looked up and said, ‘Thank you. This is
exactly what I needed to get my life back in order. I love you. And I’ll never
do you wrong,’” said Shepherd.
left the hospital with a positive attitude. He eliminated the drugs and
alcohol, began eating healthy and working out. He lost 40 pounds. And he began
believing in himself.
he had gone as far as he could by himself, he connected with Isagenix
International, a company that markets dietary supplements and personal-care
products. A former teammate in the Orioles’ organization facilitated the
an Isagenix “associate,” Shepherd dropped 40 more pounds and sculpted his body
to the point that he won the Isabody Challenge on his third try, in August of
2016, a tribute to his commitment and competitiveness and an accomplishment
that still elicits emotion when he talks about it.
and wife Rachel have two children, 28-month-old Kingston and 9-month-old
Braven. His journey has been
“incredible,” said Shepherd. “I went from pretty much a hospital bed to just
wanting to get my life back and get healthy again to inspiring others . . .
it’s just so hard to believe.”
even than believing his estimation of the 1995 Husker offense, which included
six starters who batted over .300, the lowest Jed Dalton’s .337. It was among
a lofty thing to say,” Shepherd said. “But from 1-to-9, our lineup, there’s no
doubt in my mind we could’ve held our own with any team that played college
Mike is in his 40th year covering Husker athletics, after seven years of community-college teaching. He has written and edited a dozen books, all on Nebraska football except one, a brief history of Husker basketball. He previously wrote for the Lincoln Journal and Star and Huskers Illustrated. He enjoys music, from the Grateful Dead and Jack Johnson to Van Morrison, Bob Wills, Glenn Miller and pretty much anyone else.