MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. - It's spring and the aroma of pine tar is in the air. (For the uninitiated, baseball players rub a schmatte coated with pine tar ontheir bats for tack.)
We've traveled to the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome at 34 Kirby Puckett Place in downtown Minneapolis for our occasional look at Jews in the big leagues. Coming down the stairs from the visitors' clubhouse is Shawn Green, who has emerged as a bona fide star at the plate and roaming right field for the Toronto Blue Jays. The 6-foot, 4-inch California native put up impressive numbers in 1998: 35 home runs, 100 RBI, 106 runs, 175 hits for a .278 average, and 35 stolen bases.
He's off to a strong start in 1999 - with 4 home runs he's tied for the team lead with 1st baseman Carlos Delgado - and could emerge over the long haul as the most potent Jewish batsman since Hank Greenberg.
"Last year was a real good season," comments Green, standing in front of the Blue Jays dugout as the Twins finish their turn in the batting cage. "It's a lot of fun to be one of the main parts of a good team, and, hopefully, we'll get to the play-offs and the World Series."
In fact, Green, who finally got to play on a daily basis last year, became the first player in his club's history--and just the 9th American Leaguer--to join the 30/30 club, 30 homers and 30 steals, which signifies a rare combination of power hitting and finesse on the base paths. Regarding his 35 HRs and 35 steals, Green allows, "It's something that I didn't really think about doing that much until it started getting into the realm of possibility, and once that happened it definitely was a goal of mine to reach that milestone."
The personable, self-possessed ballplayer gives credit for his base stealing prowess to Maury Wills, the former L.A. Dodgers speedster who is a spring training instructor for Toronto:"He's been great, he's taught me a lot. He helped me with my stolen bases a great deal....he really encourages us to keep running and keep going, and it's good to have a guy like that on our side."
In assessing his remarkable offensive production last year - the Toronto baseball writers named him Most Improved Player for the Blue Jays - Green comments, "I'm always training hard and trying new things, and just learning from the veteran players that I get to play with, like [former Blue Jays slugger Jose] Canseco and [3rd baseman] Tony Fernandez, Paul Molitor--you try to learn as much as you can from them and that helps you improve your own game."
And Green's respect for the veterans is reciprocated. As the Blue Jays go through their pre-game stretches, baseball great Paul Molitor - who played with the Blue Jays from 1993-1995, before returning home to play with the Twins - recalls how Green came to the club with a "lot of hype, because he was a young player with a lot of skills: power, speed, a good defensive outfielder, a strong throwing arm."
Molitor, who recently retired and now works some games in the TV broadcast booth for the Twins, continues, "Getting to know him on a personal level, I knew he had the type of make-up to complement that ability and it was just a matter of time before he could blossom. Last year we got a taste of what's in store for Jays fans and Shawn Green fans, that he has a chance to be one of the dominant players in the American League." Reviewing Green's accomplishments in 1998, Molitor concludes that the talented Jays star is the type of player "that you build your club around...Personally and professionally, I think, he's going to do a lot of great things in baseball, and with his attitude and his approach to the game, he's going to have a positive effect off the field as well."
Leaning against the batting cage, Blue Jays manager Jim Fregosi echoes Molitor's assessment of the 26-year-old ballplayer's all-around skills: "He does everything you could ever ask out of a guy. He's got a great future in front of him and he'll play for a long time....In fact, I think that as his career goes on, he'll become a much better player."
The Toronto baseball scribes say that Shawn Green has become a big favorite of the hometown fans - and he has his Jewish fan base in mind.
"The Jewish community in Toronto's been great. They have a real large and supportive Jewish community there, big sports fans, so it's nice to be a member of that community," says Green, who quickly adds, "I'd like to try to do more for the community - as far as charity work, it's been hard the first few years, I'm just trying to get settled in, but now I'd like to do some things to help out there....They definitely have been reaching out to me, so it's a good feeling."