TRENTON, N.J. (CNS) — Shane Panzini has come a long way since he first fell in love with baseball while playing T-ball at age 5.

The 19-year-old recent graduate of Red Bank Catholic High School in Red Bank, New Jersey, is now among the ranks of professional baseball players.

Panzini was selected by the Kansas City Royals in the fourth round — and as the 108th overall pick — in the recent Major League Baseball draft. He has since signed with the team and traveled to Arizona, where he is preparing to start his career with the organization.

“It felt really cool,” Panzini said of getting the call that he had been drafted. “It was a good family moment.”

In the weeks leading up to the draft, Panzini had been ranked highly on various draft prospect lists and charts, and the right-handed pitcher drew more than his share of Major League scouts to his high school games.

There also was interest from high-level staff from teams such as the Chicago Cubs and the Baltimore Orioles, but the Red Bank standout didn’t realize how invested the Royals were in him.

“I didn’t know they were in that heavy, but I am just happy to be part of such a great organization and with some great teammates,” he told The Monitor Magazine, the monthly publication of the Diocese of Trenton. “Things are going really well.”

In his senior year, Panzini chalked up a 0.91 ERA while setting a single-season record 115 strikeouts. But despite his own success, he always made sure his teammates were included in his accomplishments.

“He talked about them and not about himself. When we won the shore conference tournament, he helped make sure the whole team was included, and same with his going away party after he signed,” said his Red Bank Catholic coach, Buddy Hausmann.

“All his current teammates were invited because those were the guys he wanted there,” he added. “They all feel a part of the process he experienced this spring.”

Hausmann said Panzini’s success demonstrates how hard work can pay off, but the coach said he will stand out more “for the person he is.”

“The stories I will tell about him will have nothing to do with his performances on the mound. It will be more about the type of person he was,” he said. “He led by example, treated others with so much respect, and never made any of this about him. He enjoyed his teammates and playing the game of baseball. He was a true leader on and off the field.”

Hausmann believes Panzini has what it takes to be one of the greats.

“He has the make up as a player and person to be successful,” he said. “He will continue to develop and get better.”

In an interview with The Monitor shortly after he arrived in Arizona, Panzini said he looks forward to focusing on the game of baseball without distractions.

“Playing baseball every day — that’s my dream,” he said. “It’s pretty awesome.”

He reflected on his time at Red Bank Catholic and encouraged his fellow Caseys to trust the system and keep the school’s tradition of winning going.

“I met a lot of great people there, and the coaching staff there was amazing,” he said.

His mother, Colleen, echoed those thoughts. “All four of my boys have gone to Catholic high schools, so that was a big part of how he ended up at Red Bank Catholic,” she said, adding that his older brother, Blaise, also played baseball during his time there.

“His coach … really develops players,” she said. “He develops tremendous team unity, and it’s all part of the faith-based education that they are getting every day in school. It was a fabulous four years.”

She said the entire family has been excited to see Panzini’s trajectory.

“It has been such a goal for him for a long time,” she said. “I think he realized that going into professional baseball has really become a lifetime goal.”

Meanwhile, the Red Bank Catholic community has a new record for the highest MLB draft pick, and another role model for younger Caseys to look up to.

“We are all excited for Shane,” said Red Bank Catholic principal Karen Falco. “He has worked very hard to achieve his goals. I hope Shane continues to believe in himself and work for his dreams.”

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Karas is a correspondent for The Monitor Magazine, the monthly publication of the Diocese of Trenton.