Shields never stops working
Guidance from an All-Star cousin led Royals ace to national spotlight
James Shields, RHP, Royals
Hometown: Newhall, Calif.
James Shieds is a blue-collar ace, a bulldozer in a lot full of Mercedes in comparison to other aces.
The Royals' hopes of an extended postseason run will ride on the right arm of the native of Newhall, Calf., and the Royals wouldn't want to have it any other way.
Hard work is Shields' calling card, which is personified in the 200-inning seasons that can be seen in his rearview mirror. He logged 227 innings this year, making for eight consecutive 200-plus innings seasons while also casting him as one of the top free agents once the 2014 postseason runs its course.
Shields will never be outworked, an endearing trait that he credits his first cousin, and former Major League outfielder, Aaron Rowand, for instilling in him.
"I can never thank him enough for pointing me in the right direction long before I made it to the Major Leagues," Shields said. "His influence and instruction taught me the right way to go about my business."
Shields missed the entire 2002 Minor League season due to surgery on his right shoulder, which left him looking for a way to get healthy again while also getting better conditioned than he had been in the past.
"If I couldn't get my shoulder right, getting to the Major Leagues would be out of the question," Shields said. "A lot of troubling thoughts can enter your head in the aftermath of surgery. You question whether you'll ever be able to rebound, which leads to questions about what you're going to do with your life if you can't."
Shields turned down a baseball scholarship to LSU to sign with the Rays after they drafted him out of Hart High School in the 16th round of the 2000 First-Year Player Draft, and it left him with some second thoughts about his decision.
"I had regrets about not having gone to college," Shields remembered. "At least I would have had a degree to fall back on if baseball didn't pan out."
After Shields told Rowand he needed a place to work out, Rowand asked him to join him in Las Vegas for a month.
"Heading out to Las Vegas, I didn't really know what I was going to do," Shields said. "I just knew I had to do something different with myself in order to get my career back on track."
Rowand told Shields their workouts began at 6 a.m. So when Shields showed up a minute late for his first workout, Rowand told him, "Don't embarrass me, go home." Shields thought Rowand was kidding him, but he wasn't, telling his first cousin, "This is not the type of work ethic we have."
Shields never again showed up late. He rebuilt his damaged shoulder. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Shields became a legend with Tampa Bay for the work ethic he developed and established for future generations of Rays pitchers, who still talk about the high bar he set.
"If you sit down and let him tell you his story, there's a bunch of guys in [the Rays organization] who told him he would never get to this level," said former teammate and good friend David Price, who will be pitching for the Tigers in the ALDS against the Orioles. "He's not only been to this level, he's been very successful.
"He's been an All-Star. He's been top five in the Cy Young. That just goes to show his work ethic and the pride he has in this game. It's fun to watch.
"If you get to the playoffs, that's what makes everyone successful. And the only way to get to the playoffs is for everyone to stick together and feed off each other."
Major League pitchers don't log 200-inning seasons year after year on grit alone, Shields knows a little bit about pitching, too. To understand how perplexing an at-bat against Shields can be, tap into what Paul Konerko once noted after an 0-for-3 against Shields.
"With the pitches he had and where he was throwing them, he had about seven different options, because he was throwing two or three different kinds of pitches to two sides of the plate," Konerko said. "So, when you total that all up and have that many weapons and you are using all of them, it's a handful. There's nothing you can do."
The Rays traded Shields and Wade Davis to the Royals prior to the 2013 season in a deal in which Tampa Bay received Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi.
Initially, Royals fans questioned the wisdom of the deal. The fact that Myers became the 2013 AL Rookie of the Year added some weight to that side of the argument. Now the deal appears like one of those "good for both teams" deals. A Shields win on Tuesday will go a long way toward further justifying the bold move, and only enhance his stature around the league.