'Pretty surreal': Neuse puts the 'home' in home run

July 12th, 2022

ARLINGTON -- The A’s embarked on a six-game road trip Monday night, but Sheldon Neuse was feeling right at home.

Neuse, who grew up roughly 20 miles west of Arlington in nearby Fort Worth, Texas, was accompanied by a group of about 30 friends and family members in attendance at Globe Life Field for the series opener against the Rangers. Those supporters, which included his wife, Kadence, and parents, Shane and Laura, made their presence felt in the fifth inning as Neuse rounded the bases after connecting for a booming 418-foot home run that landed in the second deck of seats in left field.

Though Neuse had already played at Globe Life Park -- the former home stadium of the Rangers where he hit .667 (6-for-9) over three games in 2019 -- the solo blast off Spencer Howard in Monday’s 10-8 loss to the Rangers was his first homer against his hometown team.

“It is special,” Neuse said. “Especially with everybody being here. It was nice to finally be able to hit one in front of everyone when they were all together. It felt pretty good.”

When Neuse wasn’t turning heads on the baseball field as a standout at nearby Fossil Ridge High School, he frequented the old ballpark in Arlington as a teenager. Through a best friend whose father worked on the grounds crew, Neuse often scored a visit inside the Rangers’ clubhouse, getting an up-close look at players he admired such as Michael Young, Josh Hamilton and even current A’s teammate Elvis Andrus.

That’s why the feeling he got rounding the bases Monday was unlike any other he’d previously experienced. Hitting a Major League home run in that same area seemed like only a wild fantasy back in those days.

“Growing up a Rangers fan, it’s cool to have [a home run] against the team I grew up watching,” Neuse said. “To be able to live the dream and play in these places, it’s pretty surreal.”

Following an impressive collegiate career at the University of Oklahoma that led to him being a second-round pick by the Nationals in the 2016 MLB Draft, Neuse was later traded to the A’s and ranked as high as No. 10 on Oakland’s Top 30 Prospects list by MLB Pipeline a few years ago, largely for his above-average raw power. As a big leaguer, though, that power has yet to fully shine through.

So far in 2022, Neuse has had a propensity to drive the ball hard into the ground. Monday’s homer, just his third of the season and first since April 30, was a reminder of the 27-year-old’s potential if he can get his swing right.

“I’ve been hitting the ball hard lately,” Neuse said. “I just haven’t been able to get anything up in the air or even on a line. Everything has been on the ground. I finally got extended a little bit and hit the ball in the gaps a little harder tonight.”

While the power has been scarce, Neuse has performed better in what is his second big league stint of the year. After struggles led to a demotion to Triple-A in early June, Neuse is now hitting .280 (14-for-50) in the 16 games since he was recalled on June 21.

In addition to the homer, Neuse contributed to a furious comeback attempt by the A’s in the eighth with an RBI groundout to cap a six-run inning, which included homers by Ramón Laureano and Chad Pinder to mark Oakland’s highest-scoring inning of the year so far.

“Sheldon had a good night,” said A’s manager Mark Kotsay. “The opportunity for him tonight to face a righty, it was a good matchup for him, and he proved that with his at-bats. Overall, Sheldon is part of this club and the opportunity exists for him to go out and earn his time.”

Neuse’s homecoming tour will continue throughout the week. After the A’s finish this three-game series in Arlington, they’ll play three games in Houston, where a large portion of Neuse’s extended family now resides.

“I’ll probably have more in Houston, honestly,” Neuse said. “The family members are a little closer down there. It’s nice to be back home.”