Shawn Green's Going Back To Cali
By Taylor Whitley
Street Zebra Magaine
Dodger faithful have not had too much to cheer about the last few years. Enter Shawn Green...
Picture By Diane Stanley
The last two seasons have been anything but a walk in the park for the Los Angeles Dodgers, who have posted back-to-back disappointing seasons. But with a new attitude and rising star Shawn Green in the fold, there appears to be nothing but blue skies on the horizon.
Yes, we know. It sounds like a line from some corny song. But with the infusion of bluebloods Bob Daly and Green, the Dodgers may just be primed to turn this whole mess around.
Obviously, being a successful baseball team requires talent, but it also requires chemistry, a class that the Boys in Blue failed miserably last season.
GONE...is disgruntled outfielder Raul Mondesi, who alienated himself from the organization by going on a profanity-laced tirade that even turned his most loyal fans against him.
IN.... is Southern California boy Shawn Green, who has every Dodger fan drooling with anticipation, thanks to a monstrous 1999 campaign in which he batted .309, with 42 home runs, and 123 RBIs.
Fans shouldn't have to think too hard to remember the last time a player with an average higher than .300 with more than 40 bombs and over 120 ducks knocked off the pond was found in these parts. Does the name Piazza ring a bell?
We can see the headlines now: "Local Boy Comes Home, Brings Championship With Him!" Okay, maybe that's a little much, but you get the picture.
From Little League to the Show
Green, who was born in Des Plaines, Illinois, moved around a bit before finally settling in Tustin (that's Orange County for those of you without a Thomas Guide) at 12 years of age. Success has never been a stranger to the newest Dodger, who began playing organized ball at the age of seven in San Jose, California.
"Yeah, we had a great team that went pretty far in the Little League All-Stars," Green recalled.
But this was just a prelude to many successes that were in store for this future All-Star. Green's talents really started to take effect at Tustin High School, where he proved to be an all-around athlete before finally settling down in the outfield.
"In my freshman year, I played basketball and [also] played a little first base and did some pitching. But not too much," Green remembered.
Green's teams at Tustin High may have never won a championship, but they were always contending, reaching the Southern Section finals once and the semi-finals twice. It was somewhere in that span that the dream of becoming a major-league ballplayer began to look like a real possibility.
"Probably in high school, maybe around my sophomore year," he recalled. "I was about 15, and I played in some scout leagues and did well."
These scout leagues, games that took place in the wintertime and on weekends, were exclusively for high-schoolers who appeared to be a cut above the rest. Green agreed that they could be comparable to the American Legion, but with definite advantages.
"Yeah, It's better though. You use wood bats and all the scouts were there. So they start talking to you, and that's when I started thinking I had a chance."
The pro scouts weren't the only ones to recognize the 6'4" lefty's potential, as perennial college powerhouse Stanford came a-knocking. The Cardinal offered Green what amounted to a free ride, but the Toronto Blue Jays had other plans, making him their first round pick (16th overall) in the 1991 Amateur Draft.
The decision wasn't necessarily an easy one for Green, but at that point he knew what would best help him reach his goals.
"It was a little bit of everything," Green admitted. "It wasn't really the money. I knew that being a first rounder, it was more that they were going to invest in you [as a ballplayer]. So you know that you'll get everything that is there to give you the best shot. You're gonna get the best opportunity, so that was the whole key. And also I wanted to play baseball, so that's what I did."
Don't think that the bright lights of the big leagues blinded this 18-year old, however. He still decided to hit the books during the off-season.
"I took some classes in the winter time at Stanford," the All-Star right fielder shared. "I just wanted to get some quarters in, and of course I wanted to get some work done just in case baseball didn't work out. But once I got to the big leagues, I was more focused on baseball."
Who could blame this rising star, who spent a brief three-and-a-half seasons in the minors, making stops at Dunedin (A), Knoxville (AA), and Syracuse (AAA) before making his major league debut at the age of 21. After another short stint at Syracuse, the Blue Jays called him up for good in 1995. At that point Green established himself as an everyday player, living out his dream against some of his childhood idols.
"It was exciting to play against some of your heroes." Green conceded. "I played against Rickey Henderson, Don Mattingly, and guys that I looked up to. There were a lot of them, but it was nice to play against those guys."
When asked if there were any pitchers he was psyched to be facing, Green didn't hesitate: "Yeah, [Roger] Clemens was like that."
These future Hall-of-Famers didn't faze the confident up-and-comer, who continued to elevate his game.
Not that there was anything wrong with Toronto, but once Green knew that the Blue Jays weren't going to be able to meet his financial demands, there was no other thought but coming home.
"Yeah, that was a big factor," Green admitted. "It was definitely a big perk. But I also liked that the organization was committed to winning. Even though last year was a down season, there are a lot of great players here. I knew it was just a matter of time before they put the right mix together."
The switch from reasonably subdued Toronto to the second biggest market in the U.S. hasn't been easy though, as the laid back outfielder has been deluged with everything from media requests to questions about which synagogue he will join.
"It's been a big change. There's been a lot of attention," Green acknowledged. "I'm a pretty mellow guy, so it's gonna be an adjustment. But I've been through enough at 27-years-old, where I can handle it now."
There doesn't seem to be much that the Dodgers new savior can't handle, which they hope will include leading this team back to the post-season.
"I think we got all the talent here," Green surmised. "It's just a matter of guys going out there and having good years. We definitely have the offensive potential, and our pitching is looking a lot better than what was out there last season."
Green thinks that his game will definitely complement his new team.
"I would say I bring a left-handed bat, something that was needed here. I think it helps balance the line-up having me in there, since there's a lot of right-handed pitching. Those are the kind of guys I like to hit off, so it works out best for the team."
"I'm going to go out and play hard and hopefully be pretty consistent throughout the year."
One can only dream that this potential superstar can duplicate his offensive output of '99. His attitude alone should be a welcome change for the Boys in Blue.