Earlier this winter, the Red Sox made it official. Mike Cameron, signed as a free agent this off-season, will be the new center fielder for the team, and fan favorite Jacoby Ellsbury will move over to left.
It is a decision that has been debated in bars and at water coolers around New England. Why move Ellsbury, the best base stealer in team history, out of his customary spot?
The answer is simple. Even at 37, Cameron is one of the best center fielders in the game. And don’t worry about him being affected by fans’ reaction to his bumping Ellsbury out of center.
After all, this is the guy who once replaced Ken Griffey, Jr. in Seattle.
That move worked out pretty well. In Cameron’s second year in the Northwest, the Mariners won an AL-record 116 games. He was the clubhouse leader on that team, and has only grown as a presence in the locker room over the ensuing years.
“He’s a great team leader in the clubhouse,” said Ken Macha, who managed him last year with the Milwaukee Brewers – after spending two years with us as a NESN analyst.
At his introductory press conference in Boston, Cameron was asked what he attributes his lengthy career to. “Good parents” were the first words out of his mouth. His new manager, Terry Francona, saw that upbringing in action when Francona was coaching in the White Sox system – and Cameron was a raw prospect out of LaGrange, GA.
“I saw his folks drop him off in Sarasota when he was about two weeks out of high school,” Francona said earlier this winter. “I believe, I might be wrong, but they gave him a computer and they made him promise to work on it every night. I’ve seen him kind of come full circle. I’ve thrown to him more in the cage than is almost humanly possible. I’ve seen him go from kind of a raw, very athletic, likable 18-year-old to a guy who’s played and had a great career, and we’re excited to have him here. What he does in the outfield, what he does at the plate, you can see. What he brings besides that is going to be very good.”
Cameron is everything you’d want a major-league ballplayer to be. He spends countless hours in the off-season working for charity. He returns to his home in the off-season, and even donated the money for his high school alma mater to build and indoor batting cage. He has become the type of veteran young players turn to when they want to learn how to play the game the right way.
That said, character doesn’t win games. Talent wins games. In three weeks, Cameron will arrive in Ft. Myers as a 37-year-old with a .250 career batting average. Yet he has averaged more than 22 home runs a year over the past six seasons, spending most of his time with teams that play in notorious pitchers’ parks. Fenway Park should help him offensively, and he should help the team with tremendous range in center – and an arm that is undoubtedly an upgrade from Ellsbury.
He will also become an instant leader in the Fenway Park clubhouse. His arrival might mean one of the most popular players on the team is changing positions, but it won’t be long before Cameron is a fan favorite, too.
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