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1998 The New Beginning


Right from the end of last season it when ex manager Cito Gaston was fired it became obvious that if Shawn was still a Jay, 1998 would be a whole new beginning for Green. It was clear that the pressures and tribulations of previous seasons may well be a thing of the past.

Of course all anyone really seemed to know of him was his notoriously slow starts and dubious fielding skills. How come the word of all the good work he had done in the minors seemed to have been lost in transition?

Once again Shawn was being offered for trade with Juan Guzman for Seattle Mariners Randy Johnson. After finishing the season with the highest team batting average of .287, hitting his most ever home runs in the majors 16 and being only one runs shy of his RBI record of ‘95. Also lets not forget who had the game winning double to close out the ‘97 season. Still he was getting the we really don’t want you syndrome.

Thankfully, the Mariners wanted to right their major mistake of ‘97 by wanting Jose Cruz JR back who they had so foolishly traded away in July along with Blue Jay starter Pat Hentgen. That was the only deal they wanted. They had taken so much criticism about the Cruz / Timlin/ Spoljaric deal that to come away with anything less than Cruz would be unforgivable. Shawn lived to fight another trade scare.

It seemed although the Gaston era was over the “Green’s No Good” one was not. Not until the hunt for a new manager started that is. After all the problems with the manager the previous season Gord Ash had to make sure he found a manager that not only could teach his team, he also had to be able to return harmony to the totally out of tune club house. At the end of the ‘97 season everyone seemed totally divided although the tension did seem to ease for more than one player right from the day that Gaston was fired. Still the team needed rebuilding and quick. A new manager would have a big task at hand.

Several people were interviewed for the job. They all had one player they were really raving about. Was it Clemens, Carter, Hentgen, Cruz, Gonzalez, or could it be Shawn Green the right fielder who we had been told so many times could not hit, catch or really do anything right? Yes it was Green.

They could all see something that others maybe did not want to see. He really did have a great potential and under the right circumstances could go on to be one of the big names in baseball. Oh, was this not the reason he was the Jays # 1 draft pick in ‘91? How soon we forget!

Shawn met up with Johnson on the west coast part of the 1998 Blue Jays Caravan. Johnson told him he would have a shot at hitting 3rd. That was his position in the batting order when he won the batting title in Syracuse. Still he had been told the previous season he and Gonzalez would be a pivotal part of the team and what happened then. He hit 7th, platooned and oh yes sat on the bench for a month. It must have been hard for him to take this seriously.

A couple of short weeks later there was another reason for Green to think that maybe things were on the change. He was given a 2 year contract by the Jays that over a two year period would be worth $4.5 million. Was this for the same guy who was only good to ride the bench, and play in only certain games ? No this was for the guy who I knew years before could go out there and play every day, hit for a good average and possibly be one of the best all time Blue Jay players.

The smiles that day to me seemed worth more than all that money. From what he was saying the two years were worth more than money to him. He could have signed for one year like Gonzalez in hopes of having a better season this year enabling him to demand a larger sum of money next year, but he went for the two years. Two years showed they had faith in him and faith was all he asked for.

1998 SPRING TRAINING.

When he arrived at Spring Training on February 9th once again that faith was renewed. Johnson went straight to him and told him that he would indeed be batting 3rd. At last a manager who was as good as his word. Someone to trust, someone who might just give him the chance he so rightly deserved. He had a smile that was so real, and a tone in his voice that said “I can do it and I will”. 1998 was going to be his year!

THE SPRING TRAINING GAMES.



Once the spring training games started the new confidence was still evident, but the batting average was still not too good. he went 11 at bats before his first hit and at one time was 6-46. hardly startling figures but he still looked more comfortable than he ever had. Also you could see that although things were not going the greatest the game was still fun.

He did have a couple of great games at the plate though going 4-5 in one game and 3-3 in another. One area in which I saw great improvement was his base running. With help from ex Major Leaguer Maury Wills, Shawn stole 6 bases during the spring. Shawn seemed to show a great respect for Maury and I think he learned a lot from him. It was great to see him talking all the time to Maury about running, first base coach and outfield coach Jack Hubbard about how to handle certain situations in the field and to hitting coach, Gary (Sarge) Matthews about all aspects of hitting . Even better was that they would listen to him too. He would talk and listen and then go out and do his best to execute the game plans and the things he had learned.

Everyone seemed to be having a good time unlike the previous season, when even in the spring there was a bad atmosphere hanging over the team. This season many players who had not hit too well in the game would stay behind and do extra batting practice on the field afterwards and then could be heard in the indoor cages still hitting hours after everyone else on the team had gone home.

Shawn was one of these guys. After one such long hitting session Shawn had a large blister on his hand, but for some strange reason maybe it helped because it was the next day that he went 4-5. The look of determination to improve was evident.

Also Alex Gonzalez and Robert Perez (until he was put on waivers) were also often seen doing this extra batting practice. It was if this all really was for something because I gained a great respect for the way new manager Tim Johnson and his coaching staff worked with all the guys during the three weeks that I was in Florida. They gave praise when it was deserved and kicked butt when people slacked off.

Another big difference was once the guys came out on the field at about 9am for their workouts things moved quickly. First stretching and jogging and then batting and fielding practice. In previous years it seemed that a lot of time was wasted when no one was really sure where they should be and what they should be doing. Not this year. It was all very clear who did what and when.

For any of you that think a ball player only works three or four hours a day, think again. A lot of these guy’s would put in a very physical eight or nine hour day, sometimes even more in often very hot conditions. I fact I don’t think I know anyone who puts so much physical effort into their work.

It seemed that no sooner had I arrived in Florida it was time to go home in time for opening day at the SkyDome in Toronto. What will the regular season hold for Shawn? My predictions for the season are: 23 home runs, 87 RBI’s and 20 stolen bases. The number three spot where he will play should help with the RBI count and the confidence that will build as the season goes on will hopefully help his game in the field. He made several great plays in the spring. lets hope this will carry over into the regular season.

THE 1998 REGULAR SEASON.



On opening day Tim Johnson kept his promise to Green. He was still hitting third even though he had not hit as well as maybe teammate Ed Sprague. The regular season seemed to be off to a real slow start at the plate too, when he left the bases loaded in the first two games and still failed to hit in the third.

In fact it was not until the seventh inning of game four against Texas that he recorded his first hit of the regular season. He got his first RBI in that game too when he grounded out to first with the bases loaded.

The next day (April 5th) started much better. He came to the plate in his number three spot with Alex Gonzalez on second and Felipe Crespo on first. With two strikes against him he launched a blast to right field for his first homer of the regular season.He also made a great ankle high catch in that game too. Hopefully this would be a taste of things to come.

In fact it would be at least for the time being as after this homer on April 5th he went on to homer in the next three games as well on April 7th, 8th and 9th against Minnesota. This tied him for a Blue Jay record with George Bell who did the 4 homers in four games in 1985, Joe Carter who did it in ‘91 and Carlos Delgado who did it in ‘97.

The most satisfying though must have been on April 8th as it came off a left hander Greg Swindell. After all he had been told enough times he could not hit against left handers in the past. He had also recorded an RBI in his last five games.

Shawn’s 5th home run of the season came on April 14th in Kansas City. He drove a monster shot 422 feet into the right field water fall.

When the Jays returned to Toronto he still continued to hit well going 2-4 with 2 RBI’s and a stolen base in one game and 1-4 with another 2 RBI’s the next game.

Even though there was the early power in his bat, his fielding although in some ways was improved, in others he was struggling having made three errors in the first three weeks of the season. In 1997 he only made three errors in the entire season. Some extra work would need to be done to get back on track.

Maybe the road trip to Chicago would be a boost as many family members always turn out to watch him play. He was not alone though in the sloppy fielding. The Jays as a team made 15 errors in the first 12 games of the season. Everyone needed extra work in the field as well as in the batting cage.

Also the ace pitching staff of the AL was also struggling, with Woody Williams being the best starter on the team. The bull pen would end up seeing much more work than they could have anticipated, with Paul Quantril pitching most days and his bull pen partners having to pick up from the faltering starters day after day, often with the game already out of reach. Would this be another disappointing season for the Jays? The season was young but it was full of missed chances and failures for the Jays as a team.

On Friday April 24th Carlos Delgado returned from his stint on the DL after shoulder surgery. Would he be able to boost the team and get them to the right side of .500? It seemed to be no because on the last day of April the Jays were a dismal 10-16. The return also brought an end to Shawn’s brief stint of being an every day player.

Delgado’s return ment that Stanley would be moved to DH, so Canseco would take an outfield spot each day in the line up. Jose Cruz took the biggest knock, but Shawn and left fielder Shannon Stewart also took their turn to sit. The struggling Stanley and his .198 average only missed one game in the month, where as Cruz missed several and Shawn missed two, Stewart also missed a couple. Were we going back to the days when only veterans were assured a game?

Canseco, although he had hit 8 home runs and had 18 RBI’s was only hitting .210. Was that really enough to assure him a spot every day? After all Shawn was second on the team in homers (5), and in RBI’s (15), and he had a better average (.232), so surly he should be assured a spot too if they were just going on production at the plate.

Also Green is a much better outfielder than Canseco. He also lost his #3 spot in the batting order to Canseco. For now he would bat second. How long would this last? Would he be moved back down to the bottom of the order, or would he start to produce like he normally does later in the season. Only time will tell. I would say the low point of the month for Shawn must have been striking out 4 times in the final game of the month. Another season, another slow start, not only for Green, but the entire Blue Jays team.

The month of May brought more ups and down’s for Shawn. He played in the game on May first in Oakland, but then went on to sit the next three. Was this a return to how things were in the 97’ season. It seemed no as it was Jose Cruz JR who once again found himself sitting almost every game until Shannon Stewart injured his left thumb on May 18.

Shawn was no longer playing every day against left handers as he had started off the season, but he was playing in most games. His average against lefties was just too low to assure him every day status. It was just .186 as of May 17. A thrill must have come his way though when he hit a home run in Anaheim, with his parents and other family members present and also many friends who he knew from his school days in Tustin. It was his second homer in Anaheim, but what bigger thrill could there be than hitting a homer in the park where he used to go as a boy to watch the Angels, with so many people who meant so much to him there. He left Anaheim with many better memories that he did the previous season when he was not even allowed a pinch hit.

Then it was on to Seattle, where things were still going pretty slow for him. The Jays returned to SkyDome though with a great 6-4 record after playing come back in several of these games. This is what everyone was saying the team needed to do before they left, but it seemed inconceivable at the time as they had played so poorly in April.

They came home to play the same three teams that they had on the long ten day west coast road trip. Shawn seemed to slump again as soon as he hit the SkyDome turf. He had always hit so much better on the road and still seemed a little depressed with his efforts when I saw him. As usual he would say nothing was wrong, but he knows that I know him better than that. Doing well as always been his main goal in whatever he does. Be it schooling, baseball, or anything else. The best is all that’s good enough for him. Still I did not press the subject and just wished him well.

Things started to turn again on May 20 against Tampa when he homered and again the following day when he went 3-3 with a homer and 2 walks against them. Then it was on the road again and the Jay’s had reached .500 again at last. It was a one day thing though as they lost the first game on their road trip to Cleveland 9-7.Green had another good game going 3-5. If it were not for some poor pitching by Erik Hanson and if there had been some timely hitting by the rest of the team, this could have easily been another one for the win column.

The Jays rounded out the month of May on a winning note and it was also a positive month for Green. They were right in the wild card race with Boston and Anaheim. Maybe this could be the year that Shawn would get his wish to play in the post season.

The Jays were not only winning, but having fun too. Carlos Delgado started a new trend on the team that would surprise and even shock a few fans. His head is normally clean shaven, but he grew hair. Nothing too surprising in that except he then went on to die it yellow! Soon he was followed by Roger Clemens and Jose Cruz Jr. It was said that Green would be next. There was no way I could see this happening as it would be totally “un-Shawn.” But June first I got the shock of my life. I was at the Hard Rock Cafe that is situated in the Dome and the Jays were working out. Shawn was right below me playing right field when I saw it. He took off his cap and his hair was also bright yellow! Tweety Bird yellow! I have to admit I hated it right from that moment, although a lot of the fans thought it was awesome. To me it was just not Shawn. Alex Gonzalez also joined the trend with Ed Sprague and first base coach Jack Hubbard. It may have been fun but it seemed as soon as the hair thing started so did the loosing streak. Had the peroxide eaten into their brains or what! I guess that can’t be the reason, because Delgado went on a tear, as the rest of the team slumped. Things went from bad to worse. The pitching with the exception of Woody Williams was awful, the hitting was awful and the fielding left a lot to be desired too.

They did have some bad breaks though during the 17 inning game against the Florida Marlins though. They lost a game through an umpires incompetence, and the next through sheer lack of production, although they did manage to salvage the last game so as not to have to return home after a sweep by the lowly Marlins. June 11th Shawn finally dyed his hair back to a more normal brown color much to my delight. It also seemed to affect his game too as he started to play so much better, or so it seemed. It was more than obvious that he did not like the blond hair, so maybe returning his hair to normal did have some effect.

June 28th brought about Shawn’s third multi home run game of his major league career. It was again against the Atlanta Braves. This time it was time to show left hander Tom Glavin what he was made of. It was only Shawn’s third major league home run off a lefty, (but remember in previous season’s he had hardly ever faced one.) But hitting a homer off one of the best lefties in the game was another major milestone.

As predicted by many myself included ‘98 would be Green’s biggest season to date and a taste of things to come. By July 12th he had surpassed his season best’s in homers 17 (16 his previous best,) and stolen bases 20 (14) and would surely soon pass his RBI best of 54.

He had establish himself as a center fielder in this time too as the arm of Shannon Stewart was just not strong enough even though his defense was slightly better. manager Tim Johnson said too many runners were going first to third on Stewart and had done the same against Cruz before his demotion. Green’s canon of an arm would cut down on that. He was leading the majors in outfield assists (10) They knew they could not run on Green. He admitted it would take time for him to learn, but he had always been a quick learner.

July started slowly for the Jays, but Shawn was still playing well. He was still adapting to center field, but was making progress. He went home to see his family and friends in California during the All Star Break. He was looking forward to the visit. He came back looking happy and refreshed, but for some reason over those couple of days his swing seemed to have somewhat been lost on the journey, although he was still hitting fairly well.

July 17 1998 was another career game for Shawn. The Jays were facing the mighty Yankees who were so hot they were on fire. This was to be one special game for Shawn. It did not look as if it would be when he made yet another error in the bottom of the first. The Jays were going through a plague of errors and Green was not left out of things, but he would make up for it in his first at bat of the night driving a long solo home run to tie the game. This was just his first homer of the game.

In the bottom of the 7th with the bases loaded on a 2-1 count he fouled a long fly ball to right. He had never hit a Grand Slam and surly must have been feeling the pressure, then it came to straight away center field, over the wall Grand Slam off Yankee reliever Mike Stanton, and yes Stanton is a lefty. In all Shawn ended up with five RBI’s that night and a smile that said it all.

The next day though the smile was gone. The Jays had acquired outfielder Tony Phillips and now he would be the everyday left fielder, Canseco in right every day and Shawn and Stewart to platoon in center. Today it was a lefty and even though the slam had come off a lefty Shawn was left to sit and watch as Stewart played center.

As time went by Shawn’s average plummeted. He went 0-21 at one time and his smile was gone and the sad face of the Sierra Fiasco returned. There were talks as usual about him being traded as the trade deadline fast approached. Would he still be a Jay come August 1st or would he be somewhere else? He was left to wait and see.

The tension became more evident and his smile a rarity as time passed. Then on July 30th Mike Stanley was traded to Boston, that put Canseco in the DH spot where he belonged, but they also brought up Cruz. Still one outfielder too many for every one to play every day.

Then on July 31st Juan Guzman became the first trade of the day. He was sent to Baltimore. The tension was still mounting as Ash had said there would be more trading that day. Next was a big surprise. Tony Phillips who had played so well since joining the Jays just a couple of weeks before was traded to the New York Met’s, during the game in Minnesota. This left Cruz, Stewart and Green to patrol the outfield just as they were supposed to at the start of the season and had done for a few short weeks. Shawn could not hide the smile as Phillips walked by him in the dugout and he gave him a slap on the back. Maybe it was not meant to mean, “Yes I get to play every day,” but that’s sure the way it came across.

On the Saturday he only got one hit in the game, but did get a couple of walks and 2 RBI’s as well as scoring a couple of runs. On Sunday August 2nd he joined an elite club in the Jays franchise. He joined the 20-20 club. 20 home run’s 20 stolen bases. Only six other Jays had ever reached this mark. Shawn David Green had placed his name once more in Blue Jay history.

August must without doubt go down as being Green’s all time best month. He not only hit like he usually does in the second half, no he went way beyond that. He hit ten home runs and knocked in thirty runs. He was on fire like never before.

He gained consideration for the AL player of the month and to many peoples minds he should have got it. Only his batting average was less than winner Derek Jeter. I’m sure if Shawn had of been playing for a more popular team than the Jays or been as well known as Jeter he would have walked away with the honor.

Still even bigger things were looming on the horizon for Green. After his August tear something else seemed like it may be possible. Something no other Blue Jay had ever done in the history of the franchise. He was closing in on thirty steals and thirty homers. Could he do it? Well It would not take too long to find that one out.

The stolen base seemed to come easy, but then the pressure started to show. At 29/30 everyone was anticipating the thirtieth homer. It seemed like every pitch he swung for the fences and ended up going into a little slump for a couple of days. I was praying that he would get the homer at the Dome and yes I was a little greedy. I wanted to be there. I wanted to share the excitement of seeing my all time favorite make history.

But would Jose Canseco do it first? He already had over thirty homers, and all he needed was two steals. He joked with Green before his thirtieth steal that Green should get the homer before steal number thirty so as they could do it together. A double steal. Make Blue Jay history together. In a way it would have been fitting as Green credits Canseco with helping him achieve all he has this season, but no I wanted this to be Shawn’s. To show everyone just what he could do. To show the management of season’s gone by that they were wrong. To show all the people who had put him down in the past they were wrong. To show the countless other fans with whom I had argued Shawn’s case over the years they were wrong. I wanted him to be the first so badly and so did he. He never said it, but you could see it in his eyes.

When the Jays left for Kansas City on August 31st I felt I would not be there to witness my little piece of history. He was still at 29/29. The stolen base came the next day and I was sure with less media pressure on the road that homer number thirty was going to come while he was away. It was not to be though. When he returned on September 3rd to play Boston he was still looking for the illusive homer. It did not come on the first day, but when I went to the game on September 4th I knew something was going to happen that day.

I saw Shawn before he went into the Dome and wished him luck. I could feel it. Today would be the day. I could hardly wait for the game to start. I was sitting in my front row seat waiting for the game to begin when a man taps me on the shoulder and asks me if it would be okay to ask me a few questions about Shawn. He says he is from Sports Illustrated magazine and shows me his Id. He says he can see I must be a fan of his as I’m wearing his jersey. I say it depends on what he want’s to ask.

He tells me he is writing an article for the magazine about Shawn and want’s me to help him. I’m really nervous, but honored too. I have to get this right for Shawn’s sake. I know what I will and will not answer. He asks about if I had met Shawn and when I say yes he asks how long I have known him and basic questions like that. Then he asks me why I like Shawn and I tell him. We chat about the Sierra Fiasco and how I feel he will have got so much further with more consistent playing time in the past. I tell him that tonight is 30/30 night. He thanks me and says he will let me know when the article comes to print.

Then it was time for the game to begin. I did not realize the interview had gone on through the anthems and the ceremonial first pitch I helped me relax in a way, at least until the game started.

First at bat, was a single. Second at bat double that had it have had just a little more would have made it over the left field fence. Third at bat another double. Fourth (and what it seemed could have been his last at bat) intentional walk. He scored on a massive Canseco grand slam. Thankfully the Jays were hitting up a storm that night. The score was 11-1 Toronto. Green comes to bat, I can hardly breath, please, please let this be it. And then the crack of the ball on the bat. The ball comes down 406 feet away in right field. Home run Shawn Green!!

He becomes the first Blue Jay in history to make the 30/30 club. I’m screaming and crying, he is smiling like I have never seen him smile before. The tip of the hat to the crowd, the standing ovation. This was Shawn’s time, his time to shine, his time to be able to say without a word, you were wrong. September 4th 1998 Shawn David Green becomes the first ever Blue Jay member of the 30/30 club, and I’m so proud to say I was there to see it.

As September drew to a close it looked as if the Blue Jays stood a chance at reaching the post season. A happy feeling was in the air. There were smiles all around. It was not to be though as a loss that should not have happened and two more bad outings by the bullpen in Tampa finished up the post season dreams. So near and yet so far.

There were still personal goals to be reached though. The last one being for Shawn was 100 RBI’s. I saw him before the last game and wished him luck on reaching his goal. All it needed was one home run, a fly ball with a runner on third, a solid single with a runner on second. He had to do it and in his final at bat of the day he did. A solo homer to left, into the bullpen, RBI #100. Shawn finished the ‘98 season with career records of 35 home runs, 35 stolen bases and 100 RBI’s. Was I a long way off with my predictions earlier in the season!

The only blemish if you like was that he was third in the league in strikeouts too, but to my mind he had done what I had known he could for so long. Congratulations Shawn from your #1 fan. I had faith in you, I believed in you. I knew I was right. Thank you for proving me right!

 1998 MAJOR LEAGUE STATS: TORONTO BLUE JAYS.
G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI AVG
158 630 106 175 33 4 35 100 .278



This all brings me back to a conversation I had with Shawn on the last day of Spring Training ‘98.

Diane:
“Shawn I know this will be your season. Your best ever. Show them all what I know you can do. Good luck.”

Shawn
“Thanks for believing in me. Yeah I can feel it too. Let’s go get em!”





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