LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — A Lexington family is making an impact on UK baseball and they have a message for others.
John T. Shelby Jr. is a former MLB player and coach who has three sons who’ve now suited up for Kentucky. They are believed to be the only 3 African American brothers to play for UK baseball.
“There's no doubt about it, I've always wanted my boys to play. I wanted my daughter to play softball,” said John Shelby Jr.
The Lexington native and two-time World Series champion married his high school sweetheart Trina. The couple had six children.
“Definitely competitive in anything, maybe first one to the shower, first one to the microwave, it doesn't matter. But we always have fun. That's one thing about our family,” said John Shelby III, the couple’s oldest son.
“We've always played since we were 4 years old. It's always something that we've done. No one has ever forced it on us, we just love the game,” said Jaren Shelby, the youngest.
And they played it well. John Shelby III was the first to be recruited to play for UK baseball by former coach Keith Madison. Then years later, Javon suited up for the Wildcats.
Now, the Shelby's youngest son, Jaren, is in his senior year playing for big blue nation.
“All the credit goes to him, we all try to aspire to be like my father. So just the fact that we can all follow the footsteps and do it at the same university, it's really cool,” said Jaren Shelby.
Every game in the stands at Kentucky Proud Park you'll find the Shelby cheering section.
“It's awesome, you know, even me as an older brother I get nervous whenever he comes up to the plate because I want him to do good every single time,” said Javon Shelby.
“I am loud sometimes and I'm not always positive, sometimes I'm like come on Jaren! Why'd you swing at that,” said Mom Trina Shelby.
John Shelby Jr. says it's surreal watching his sons play in a Kentucky uniform. He says decades ago, minority athletes didn't feel welcome at UK.
“Growing up and knowing that a lot of African Americans weren't recruited by Kentucky, it was not a place that you desired to attend. Nobody ever wore UK blue,” said John Shelby Jr.
But Shelby says over the years attitudes have changed. The family credits Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart with fostering an inclusive environment.
“I think it's the most exciting thing that's ever happened. Honestly, I wish we had a chance to experience what our children are experiencing now because this is really, really good. Not only for our family but for the African-American community. I think there are now more African American fans than ever before. UK has a really good name now,” said Shelby Jr.
A good name and new group of die-hard fans in the Shelby's.
“I think we're just moving forward you know, we're moving forward. I'm just so grateful we can be a part of it,” said John Shelby Jr.
The family says you can expect to see them in the stands for years to come, continuing to sew the seeds of diversity, and watching them grow at university they now love.
“Come on, come to UK it's an awesome place, they'll treat you like family. My kids can live here,” said Trina Shelby.