CHICAGO – The gentlemanly thing for a baseball team to do when it trades a player is to call him up and let him know.
The Chicago White Sox didn’t do that when they dealt Mike Cameron to Cincinnati two years ago.
Cameron was playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic and was watching TV in his apartment one night when he saw his name flash across the screen. “It (made me angry) at the time,” he said Monday afternoon. “Not that I got traded, but that nobody told me.”
Human nature being what it is, you’d surmise that Cameron still holds a little resentment toward the White Sox. And that when he steps on the field against his old team in the first game of the American League Division Series today at Comiskey Park, he will use that feeling to motivate himself.
Grudge? Not me, Cameron tried to convince reporters Monday. Why, even when he found out he was traded, it was more disappointment he felt than anything else. “I had played my whole career (in the White Sox organization),” he said. “It was the only thing I knew.”
Even more reason for him still to be seething when he steps into the batter’s box the first time this afternoon. “I really haven’t figured out why (they traded me),” he said.
Cameron, naturally, doesn’t want to give the White Sox any kind of edge against him. He may have already done so, though.
Recently, a Chicago reporter wrote a story about Cameron. He didn’t see it, but his agent did. And Cameron got on the Internet to check it out.
When Cameron saw the writer in the Mariner clubhouse Monday afternoon, he kiddingly chided him about the story’s headline: “Cameron wants to burn Sox?”
“Did you hear those words come out of my mouth?” Cameron said in a voice that was not at all angry.
“I don’t write the headlines,” the reporter said.
After the playful bantering, Cameron did admit that his engine is running a little faster than usual this week. “Yeah, why wouldn’t it?” he said. “I love to play games like this because they’re fun. There are only eight teams still playing.”
And his new team, the Seattle Mariners, is one of them.
That the season has come to this, that Seattle is in the playoffs against his old team, and that he, Mike Cameron, has had a huge impact on the M’s success, well, it’s a bit beyond belief, isn’t it? “It’s turned out to be a pretty good story,” Cameron said with a smile. “After being crappy two years ago, I’m back where I started.”
That he’s in a Mariner uniform is another story, of course. It’s a tale of a superstar who wanted to be traded and was, back to a city where he grew up. And may Ken Griffey Jr. somehow find happiness in Cincinnati. Because Mike Cameron, one of four players to come over from the Reds in the Griffey deal, has certainly found it in Seattle.
He is tickled. And the M’s are tickled to have him.
And why not? He’s been everything they hoped he would be. “He’s right about where we thought he would end up,” said Roger Jongewaard, the M’s vice president of scouting and player development. “Two-sixty-plus batting average. Fifteen to 20 home runs. Great speed to cover the outfield. It’s really a plus when you can get a guy like that who can hit home runs.”
The exact numbers: a .267 batting average, 19 home runs, 78 runs batted in.
Very impressive. Especially when you consider what he was asked to do. Replace a future Hall of Fame center fielder and, if not make Mariner fans forget Griffey, at least take some of the sting off the trade. Cameron has done that. And more.
“He’s done an unbelievable job,” said fellow outfielder Jay Buhner. “He’s been outstanding out there and worthy of a Gold Glove (he’s committed only six errors). And offensively, down the stretch, he’s been one of our clutch guys. He got some key hits for us.”
Cameron is doing what manager Lou Piniella thought he could do before he ever came to the M’s. “When he was here with the White Sox a few years ago, I specifically asked Woody Woodward, the general manager at the time, to see if we could trade for him because I loved his ability and athleticism.”
Cameron hasn’t disappointed. “He’s played excellent baseball for us,” the manager said. “He goes and gets the ball, he plays hard, he plays to win and he’s got a wonderful attitude. I’ll tell you, he’s one of the most pleasant young men I’ve ever managed.”
Buhner calls Cameron street smart. He isn’t a pushy player. He didn’t come to spring training strong-arming his new teammates to like him. “He was very quiet,” Buhner said. “He was more like a sponge, just trying to take everything in, get to know people’s personalities and what to expect and who he felt he could confide in.”
Cameron put his trust in Buhner, for one. The right fielder told him to “be himself, be Mike Cameron.” In other words, don’t try to be Griffey.
Cameron says he has talked with Griffey and one thing Junior told him to do was make the game simple. “The game is simple to him,” Cameron laughed. “He has no choice but to talk simple.”
Another member of the Griffey clan gave him advice that is a little more realistic. Ken Griffey Sr., a coach for the Reds, told him: “For three hours a day, concentrate on something you love to do.”
And because he has done just that, Mike Cameron really has turned out to be a pretty good story.
It would be even better if he burns his old team, starting today.
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