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Young fans give Green hero's welcome

PEOPLE: The pride of Tustin High — now one of baseball's richest men, thanks to the Dodgers — returns the affection.

 

By DIANA McCABE
The Orange County Register

 

SANTA ANA — Kids can spot a nice guy a mile away.

And they'll wait hours to meet him — if he's Dodger Shawn Green.

Young fans jammed The Baseball Academy here Saturday to get Green's autograph and congratulate the 1991 Tustin High graduate on his six-year, $84 million contract with the Dodgers. The deal, announced last month, makes Green baseball's second-highest-paid player and brings him home to Southern California.

"He's coming!" shouted excited boys who raced toward Green's silver Mercedes as he pulled near his parents' school.

The 27-year-old Green, dressed in blue shorts, a white T-shirt and long-sleeve beige shirt, smiled shyly.

"He's real nice," said Cody Gillespie, 11, of Santa Ana. "He once gave me a T-shirt."

Green's parents, Ira and Judy, held the open house — complete with Dodger Dogs, popcorn and free hitting — because folks kept asking about the hometown hero.

Kids like Green for his game. But they also identify with his local roots and quiet, soft-spoken manner.

"Everyone knows him. They know what he signed for, where he's played and what schools he went to," said 13-year-old Nick Bowden of Newport Beach. "He's so laid-back. If he strikes out, he doesn't get all frustrated."

Parents couldn't heap enough praise on Green. Many thanked him for coming, wished him good luck and said they were proud of him.

Green enjoys talking to fans. He attends local practices, telling kids to stay in school. "All these kids have been supportive of me, and it's nice to meet them."

He also likes being a role model. "It's a good thing for kids to look up to you," said Green, who as a youngster admired baseball greats Don Mattingly and Rod Carew. "Hopefully, I'll set a good example."

He didn't disappoint Saturday. Green signed more than 1,000 autographs and stayed an extra hour to accommodate everyone. "That's just how he is," his mom said.