Shawn Green's Form of Baseball
Shawn Green has a reputation for being an excellent student. At Tustin High School in Orange County, he graduated third in his class. As a member of the Toronto Blue Jays, he polished his baseball skills quickly, earning a promotion to the major leagues at 23. As a big leaguer, his learning curve was steep as well, and after being traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers this fall, the all-star was rewarded with a six year, $84 million dollar contract, making him one of the five highest paid players in the game.
While in Toronto, as his career was taking off, Green attracted the attention of the local Jewish community. "People would contact me or my agent, and over time it made me start to really think about the unique position I was in; I became more interested in helping out and getting involved," he noted.
Now that Green is home and among family and friends again, he is turning his considerable focus on a new area of study. "I want to learn more about my religion," said the 27-year-old right fielder, who was never bar mitzvah-ed. "The history, the traditions, and what it means to me at this stage of my life."
As a high-profile Jewish athlete in a Jewish community where many people grew up following the exploits of Dodger Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax, Green has been inundated with requests for both his time and money since the day he signed his Dodgers contract. At least six or seven requests a week pass his way, ranging from individuals wanting him to attend a child's bar/bat mitzvah, be a guest at a synagogue or grace the opening of a new building. Most recently, he attended the opening of a Jewish Community Center in West Hills, close to where he grew up, but he's mostly taking a wait-and-see attitude.
"It's been a little overwhelming, but I'm enjoying it too," he said. "I'm a very private person, but I'm also interested in learning and exploring; I'm trying to take my time with all of it and make some informed decisions rather than just jumping in without thinking."
This kind of maturity and perspective is one reason the Dodgers were so aggressive in their pursuit of Green. "Shawn not only has tremendous talent," said Dodgers legend Tommy Lasorda, "but he's very mature, and we feel he will develop into a real leader over the next few years."
As a youngster, Green grew up hearing of the accomplishments of Jewish baseball stars like Koufax and fellow Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg. However, it was an award given to a lesser known Jewish hurler that really caught Green's attention. "I definitely was aware of Koufax and his statistics, as well as his refusal to pitch on Yom Kippur even though it was the first game of the World Series," said Green. "But when Steve Stone won the Cy Young [award] for the Orioles, that hit home, because he was someone I'd actually seen play."
Green is eagerly anticipating the
opportunity to meet the great Koufax, who was recently named one of the top 50
athletes of the century in a national poll. As in the past, the graceful lefty
will make his annual visit to the Dodgers' Florida spring training headquarters,
where he will spend time tutoring and counseling the younger players and helping
them prepare for the season. "I'm really excited about meeting [Koufax] and
comparing notes, seeing as how he went through what I'm dealing with now. From
everything I hear and read, he dealt with [being a well-known Jewish athlete]
with real class and dignity."
In addition to picking up what he can from Koufax, Green also plans to seek the counsel of other individuals in his search for spiritual knowledge. "There are a few people I've spoken to already and will again, as well as a rabbi I plan on spending some time with, to learn more about my heritage."
Green's parents, Ira and Judy, happily settled in a new home in Tustin -- courtesy of their millionaire son -- plan on attending many of Shawn's home games. "My folks will be at most every game I'm sure," said Green. "It'll actually be easier for me because now I won't feel obligated to show them around town the day of a game, or entertain them as much, which I enjoyed, but also made things a little hectic."
Green's daily routine during the season is, according to him, "Kind of boring, actually. I like to go out to breakfast, walk around, go to a bookstore maybe, then head home, relax, mess around with my guitar, have some lunch and head to the ballpark in the late afternoon."
Green is looking to purchase his first home and put down roots in Los Angeles, something that makes Sarah Schneider, his fraternal grandmother and biggest fan, very happy. "My bubbie is glad because now I can settle in, have all my stuff in a place I can make my own; she believes that's a very important step for me," said Green, who is looking for a home on the Westside.
Green grew up studying the art of hitting with his father at "The Baseball Academy" in Tustin, where Shawn spent hours honing the balanced and powerful swing that is his trademark. His father's lessons paid off. Green's statistics the past two years are proof that he is indeed among the game's elite. In 1998, he became a member of the exclusive "30-30 Club", belting 35 home runs to go with 35 stolen bases. Few players in the game possess such a deadly combination of power and speed, and Green proved his breakout '98 season was no fluke by improving his numbers in almost every category in '99. He crushed a career high 42 homers, drove in a career high 123 runs, stole 20 more bases and topped it off by making only one error the entire season in right field.
Major-league scouts judge position (non-pitchers) players in five basic categories; hitting for average, hitting for power, running, throwing and fielding. Green rates highly in all five, one of the few players in all of baseball, and the first Jewish player in history, to do so. The Dodgers plan on installing Green in the key cleanup (#4) slot in their batting order, sandwiched between sluggers Gary Sheffield and Eric Karros.
Said the self-effacing Green, "I'm pleased the team has so much faith in me, and I plan on working harder than ever to make the most of this opportunity."