Rays fans remember James Shields for his leadership role in the clubhouse, but it looks like Shields is also taking on a new role as social planner for the Royals.
After a blockbuster trade sent Rays starting pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis to Kansas City and Royals top prospects Wil Myers and three other minor league players to Tampa Bay, Royals fans saw a bright future suddenly vanish as Myers and company were shipped to the Rays. But Royals fans now appreciate that Shields looks to bring imminent success, and he’s starting to do so with his new teammates.
During the offseason, Shields and Royals out fielder Jeff Francouer organized a golf match for the team at the Raven Golf Course in Phoenix, Arizona. Shields’ first social outing was successful as over 40 Royals players attended, ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick reported.
"“It’s a way of breaking that barrier, of breaking that shell,’’ Shields told Crasnick. “We’re going to be with each other for 181 days during the season.”"
And while Shields hopes to build team chemistry as the season progresses, Royals manager Ned Yost already knows Shields will lead the team.
"“He’s already beating the drum,’’ Yost told Crasnick. “He’s like, ‘Yeah, I’m a 200-inning guy. But so are you and you and you and you.’ As a starting staff, we’re going to amass 1,000 innings. That’s our goal as a group. That’s what we’re shooting for.’’"
The Royals’ starting rotation finished with a 5.01 ERA last season, while the Rays’ starters recorded a 3.19 ERA. A new season with a new team is definitely going to be a change for Shields, but he’s up for the challenge.
"“It’s a matter of getting everyone together on the same page and really feeding off each other,” Shields told Lance Veeser of Kansas City’s KSHB 41 Action News. “One starter is not going to take you to the championship. It takes all five starters to really get us there.”"
Even as Shields looks to build team chemistry and, more importantly, win games for the Royals in 2013, the impact he has made to the Tampa Bay community will not completely disappear. On the diamond, Shields has been an outstanding mentor for the Rays’ young pitchers, but just as impressive was everything he did off the field. A few years ago, Shields started the “Big Game James Club” in Tropicana Field, which allowed local foster children to attend Rays games and led to several of the children being adopted over the course of Shields’ time with the Rays. Even with Shields gone, the Rays will continue the program in Shields’ name, something that Shields described to Crasnick as “a relief.”
While the Rays have faith that Cy Young Award winner David Price and the rest of their talented rotation will be able to persevere through the loss of Shields and keep the Rays’ rotation among the best in baseball, it will still be hard to watch Big Game James take the mound for another team. After seven years of watching him, though, Rays fans are confident that Shields will deliver for the Royals, whether it’s as Kansas City’ latest starter or social coordinator, and even while Shields is pitching elsewhere, his time in Tampa Bay will continue to resonate.