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Grass remains Green for Jays

By J. H. Dama
Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Shawn Green, expresses his hopes of the roof remaining closed at SkyDome for the final game against the Texas Rangers.

The tall and lanky 6'4" Green, who strikes an imposing stance in the batting cage, complains that the opened roof robbed him of possibly three home runs in the past two games against the Rangers.

It's been a difficult year for the 24 year-old left-handed Green, who expected to play every day out of spring training, but was accused of not producing enough at the plate. He became the focus of trade rumours in May when switch hitting-outfielder Ruben Sierra was acquired, but returned to the line-up with the release of Sierra in mid-June.

Green reflects on his season sighing, "it's been hard. A bit of an emotional roller coaster for me." With intense brown eyes, Green looks out at the field, believing that he had proven himself. "It's tough. The uncertainty, that kind of wears on the confidence a little bit. When you know you're in there and you're getting a shot every day, you keep battling. You know you're going to get that opportunity to come out of a slump and be much better."

Former Toronto Blue Jay, John Olerud, who was traded in the off-season, voices his concerns about Green. "I really like Shawn as a person. He's a great guy. I've been watching the box scores on him and I've been pulling for him, and hoping that he gets to swinging the bat real well."

Bench resident

While he was a resident of the bench, Green became a student of the game by pestering pitchers Pat Hentgen and Roger Clemens, and catcher Charlie O'Brien. He would ask them things like, "what do you think he's going to do in this situation? What do you think the pitchers going to do here?" Green adds, "It helped me to learn and stay focused on the game."

Janice Beecroft, a devoted Shawn Green fan, acknowledges that during the rumours, "Shawn never went sour towards the fans." He continued to sign autographs and chat with the fans, and even appeared at Canada's Wonderland.

Everyday chances

Green credits playing every day and facing left-handed pitchers with his improvement at the plate. In his first two full major league seasons, Green only faced right-handed pitchers, unlike his time in the minors in which he faced left-handed pitchers as well. Green adds, that it, "was hard coming to the park and not being sure I was in the lineup. I think playing every day has made all the difference. That's the one factor that was missing for a couple of years."

Willie Upshaw on Green

Then-batting coach Willie Upshaw, confirms that Green has improved and explains that minor league statistics can be misleading. Upshaw illustrates that a batter can "hit .380 against righties and hit .220 against lefties and still hit .300." In the majors they face, "top notch left-handers every day. Their breaking ball's better, their fast ball's better. They can make it run, they can make it sink, they can make it cut." In the minors, "you don't see enough of them to really have a lot of success off them."

Batting techniques

When facing a left-handed pitcher Green explains that he does change his approach, "maybe cut back a little on my swing. Take more line drive base hits. Rather than hit the ball out of the park, hit it harder." Upshaw claims Green's hitting is "probably the best on the club. In the second half he's been the most consistent hitter that we have" in average, hits and production. Green's 1997 season statistics were a .287 batting average, 16 home runs, and 53 RBIs.

Olerud can understand where Green is coming from, after platooning for the Jays much of last season. "Last year we were put in the same situation, and because we have similar hitting styles, we talked hitting and that helped a lot. We were both trying to help each other swing the bat better than what we really had been."

Upshaw points out that, "sitting isn't always bad. Actually, it makes you more determined when you get in there and he did that. He didn't have success right away, but it's starting to come. "Shawn can really hit any pitch." Upshaw adds, "He's always been real good at that. He'll hit any pitch and hit it where it's pitched very well." Green's former AA manager, Garth Iorg, agrees that he, "hits the ball well the opposite way. Here's a guy who can hit. He can really do it all."

Green himself, says with optimism, "I'm hitting the ball harder to left field, which is a big step for me. If I can hit balls out to left field for home runs I think it will increase my power numbers. I think that's the most important thing this year."

the competitive Green

According to shortstop and good friend Alex Gonzalez, Green is the competitive one out of the two of them. When Gonzalez does come close to Green's numbers, such as home runs, Green will comment "hey what are you trying to do, catch up to me," Gonzalez says jokingly.

Green who has been designated hitter, in addition to playing both left and right field, is happy to be playing in right field once again, where he has for most of his career. He explains that he sees the ball better off the bat and gets a better angle on his throws to the catcher.

Green would also like to improve on his amount of steals. He thinks he is getting to the point where he is starting to judge the good times to run on pitchers. "I'd like to run even more. Just from being up here and watching guys like Paul Molitor, and (Roberto) Alomar play here, Devon White, and Otis Nixon. It helps me to learn how to steal bases."

Baseball bonuses

Already a recipient of a World Series ring from the 1993 season, though not a participant in the games, Green remarks, "it was great to get one, because a lot of people play their whole careers and never get one." But he adds that "I really didn't earn it that year. I was up for two weeks in September. But it's still exciting to be associated with a team like that."

More a fan of individual players rather than teams, Green is enjoying playing alongside Juan Samuel, and Alfredo Griffin (first base coach). He recalls seeing Griffin when he was young in a game in Oakland against the Yankees.

Green also remembers "playing against Rickey Henderson in '95. When I was young, he was my favourite player on the A's, and to see him and he's back in an A's uniform, and I was on the field," Green says with excitement in his voice, "it just kind of gave me chills to see him out there." But he adds that he got used to being around the players he admired as a kid.

Cleveland, here Green has had his most success, is his favourite park to play in. Green smiles, saying, "I love hitting at Jacob's Field, I can see the ball real well. It's just a good atmosphere, great crowds that are real loud. It's exciting!" A California resident, Green also enjoys returning home to compete against the Anaheim Angels. Now that he faces left-handed pitchers, he played three out of four games in the last series in front of friends and family. He's also happy that his family managed to take an extended vacation to the mid-west to see him play, and is grateful for their support through everything. Green says, "I'm definitely satisfied with how things turned out after the situation early in the season."

Shawn Green got his wish. The SkyDome was closed for the game against the Rangers, with Green scoring a run for the Jays victory of 4-0.

©Published in the St. Clair College Journal on October 16, 1997 and dedicated to Shawn Green.