When Shawn Green signed with the Toronto Blue Jays back in 1991, he weighed a whopping 170 pounds. Hitting for power was the furthest thing from his mind.
"I was always a guy who hit for more of an average, even growing up," Green said. "I was never a home run hitter, from little league on. I think my senior year of high school, I hit three home runs. So I never thought of myself as somebody who could do it."
Green is not exactly a muscle-bound freak of nature now. The 6-4, 26-year-old right fielder reported to camp at 207 pounds and now says he's dipped to 197. He does not look like a guy who tied for the league lead in total bases (251) and is second in the American League in home runs (31) and slugging percentage (.626).
"I'm not really any bigger than I was a couple of years ago," Green said. "I just think it's learning how to swing, learning how to drive the ball. [Hitting coach] Gary Matthews has helped a lot. And just by watching guys, talking to guys that I've played with and against. You just pick things out that work for you."
It appears as if the smooth-swinging lefty has chosen wisely. In addition to the surprising power numbers, Green is hitting .319 (including a 28-game hitting streak), has stolen 18 bases and his 89 RBI ties him for the team lead and 6th place in the AL with Carlos Delgado. As the Blue Jays battle for a playoff spot, Green is having a very nice encore to his breakthrough season last year, when he became the first Blue Jay ever to hit 30 homers and steal 30 bases in one season.
What makes Green's numbers even more impressive is that he missed 11 games due to a broken bone in his wrist at the end of May. But he returned much more quickly than anyone might have hoped and earned his first All-Star Game selection as a result of his fine first half.
"I think it's confidence," Green said. "Last year was the year I started putting up better numbers and believing in myself more. This year, it's escalated, but it's also got to do with having Shannon [Stewart] and Homer Bush hitting on base a lot, stealing bases and having Carlos [Delgado] and Tony Fernandez behind hitting well, so it's made my job easy."
As his star has risen, his job has become a little more difficult. Green was able to put together his breakout year in relative anonymity last season. This season, people have been much more demanding of his time and expect that much more of him on the field. So far, he has risen to the task.
"I've been getting a lot of attention," the soft-spoken Green admitted. "It feels good, but at the same time it means more responsibilities and more time commitments. I've learned how to deal with it. It's nothing compared to a lot of players around the league."
One way that he does not compare with most players around the league is his religion. Green has received a great deal of attention for being Jewish. Green is generally considered to be the best Jewish player since Sandy Koufax. It's a connection he wasn't necessarily looking for, but it's one he hasn't shied away from.
"It's not something that I want necessarily, but it's something that doesn't bother me," Green said. "I understand that me being Jewish is something that separates me from most players in baseball and most athletes. That's going to be something I'll be remembered for my whole career."
Jonathan Mayo is the editor for majorleaguebaseball.com.