It’s hard to believe when you see him on the diamond, but Arizona State outfielder Hunter Bishop is fighting an uphill battle for the best athlete in his own family.
There’s his father, Randy, who had a Division I baseball offer waiting until an arm injury ended his career. His mother, Suzy, ran track at UCLA before starting an illustrious career in production for movies and television.
Hunter’s toughest competition, however, has always been his oldest brother Braden – who to this day says he has never lost to Hunter in any athletic competition.
The older Bishop sibling always had the “it” factor, Randy said. He knew what he wanted – to be selected in the MLB Draft – and he got it out of high school after the Atlanta Braves selected him in the 36th round.
Even with scholarship offers for football waiting, he went to play baseball at Washington. He would get drafted again, this time with the Seattle Mariners making him their third-round selection in the 2015 MLB Draft. He made it as high as Advanced-A ball in his first full professional season in 2016.
Hunter, on the other hand, still isn’t sure what his path will lead to. A late-bloomer in high school, his passion for the game of baseball didn’t emerge until late in his senior season – after he had already committed as a preferred walk-on at Washington.
He was late into most recruiting cycles, but caught the eye of Arizona State’s baseball program. Recruiting coordinator and assistant coach Ben Greenspan first saw Hunter at a scouting event in northern California after Bishop’s junior year.
He was listed as a pitcher, which didn’t last long. The first event was the 60-yard dash. He ran it in 6.5 seconds, baffling Greenspan.
“I went back to the scout and said, ‘This guy doesn’t look like a pitcher,’” Greenspan said. “I think Hunter has unbelievable long-term potential. You don’t see a lot of guys that are 6-foot-4, hit left-handed with a chance to hit for power, and run the way he does in college baseball.”
Bishop had all the tools necessary to be a star in ASU head coach Tracy Smith’s first full recruiting class.
Recruiting Bishop would be a challenge for a variety of reasons. First, nobody knew what sport he wanted to play. Second, he didn’t want to stray too far from home in order to remain close to his mother, Suzy, who had been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s when Hunter was 16.
Smith was keen on Hunter as well, though his attraction to the situation stemmed from a personal dilemma he was also dealing with as a father. Like Randy, his son was also deciding which sport to play at the next level. Smith’s son, Jack, was a high school quarterback who received strong interest to play multiple sports.
On the day he committed to walk on at Washington in December, Smith called Randy. He thought that Hunter’s future was in baseball.
“I’ve seen baseball players for years,” Smith said. “(Hunter) was probably going to play baseball somewhere and I said I’m just calling, that if he ever changes his mind, we would love to be an option.
“When I hung up, I said, if he ever changes his mind, do not be embarrassed to pick up the phone and call me because we’d love to show him what ASU is all about and we left it at that. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting anything, I just felt for some reason like you know I wanted to just say I get what you’re going through because my own kid and that was kind of that.”
Two weeks later, the Bishops called and said they wanted to see what Smith and the Sun Devils were all about firsthand.
A visit to Tempe with Randy was all Hunter would need. He would switch schools – and sports – that same day and commit to play the outfield for the Sun Devils. Smith’s own son would also land with ASU as a wide receiver on the football team.
Even now that Hunter’s on campus, Randy can’t say for sure what his son will do.
“I would say, honestly, I’m not even 100 percent certain you wouldn’t see him playing in the NFL one day,” Randy said. “That’s the way Hunter is.”
Hunter said his passion for baseball was slow to develop, but has grown immensely.
“Until I was about 16 years old, I never really wanted to play baseball,” Hunter said. “So, my dad, he would always kind of push baseball on me and I was just wasn’t really into it, but then finally I found my love for it and here I am.”
He chose to put off a potential professional career out of high school. When the San Diego Padres selected him in the 24th round of this past MLB Draft, he stuck to his guns. He was going to college as part of the No.1-rated recruiting class in the nation.
Bishop’s ability has never been in doubt, Smith said. The challenge, he said, is helping the true freshman manage the accolades that are coming at him so quickly. In a recent Pac-12 Network broadcast, former big leaguer Eric Byrnes raved about Bishop’s potential and how high teams had him on their draft boards.
“What I like about him too is that he’s raw,” Smith said. “His best baseball years are ahead of him. I think you also try to live up to what everybody thinks about you and going back to he wears his emotions on his sleeve and sometimes young guys are impatient, there’s that learning curve too that has to happen.”
Bishop made the most of his first extended opportunity, knocking his first career home run to spark a late comeback against Long Beach State. It was a no-doubter, with Bishop’s violent swing, casual bat flip and soaring moonshot over the batting cages in right field at Phoenix Municipal Stadium serving as a reminder of what is to come.
“I think that gave him confidence to kind of settle in and produce really and be a run producer for the three games,” Smith said. “I think that if Hunter Bishop is going to look back when he’s finished here and say what was kind of the turning point, you know the catalyst for my career at ASU, I bet he would probably say the Long Beach State weekend.”
Bishop has found a spot in the lineup for Smith essentially ever since, hitting in just about every spot while also alternating between playing the outfield and serving as a designated hitter. He’s still polishing his game, but has found a role.
He’s hitting .254 with a homer and 8 RBIs through 30 games this season.
When Smith first called Randy Bishop, and offered his words of advice, he didn’t expect Hunter to change his mind. But like Smith’s own son, Jack, Hunter would have a change of heart. Saturday, as Jack Smith was participating in his first spring game as a part of the Sun Devil football program, Bishop had his biggest moment to date.
With the bases loaded and two out in the ninth against Washington State, Bishop ripped a walk-off single to right center field that capped off a wild comeback.
As Bishop’s teammates mobbed him, Bishop flashed a smile that made one thing clear – he’d made the right decision.