Saturday morning, former White Sox outfielder Aaron Rowand got a phone call from his younger cousin in San Diego. Aaron calls him Jamie. The rest of the world knows him as James, a major league pitcher whose last name is Shields.
“It’s done,” said the excited voice on the other end of the line.
The two had been talking about the trade rumors for days, but now it was official: James Shields was headed to the White Sox, the team Rowand won a World Series with in 2005 and has long been Rowand’s second family.
Now with Shields headed to the South Side, the White Sox have become all in the family.
35th and Shields.
“I told him, you’re going to enjoy your time there,” Rowand recalled in a phone interview from his home in Las Vegas. “I said, 'I’m happy for you. I’m proud of you and I’m excited to watch you put on a White Sox uniform.'"
Rowand and Shields have similar DNA — their mothers are sisters — but growing up, James wasn’t in the same league with his older cousin.
“As a kid, he has two older brothers. His oldest brother Jason is my age. His other brother Jeremy is a year younger,” Rowand said about James. “He was always the little guy who wanted to come play with us whenever we had holidays. We’d tell him, ‘Get out of here! You’re too small.’ Now he’s taller than all of us.”
Shields grew to be 6-foot-3 and became one of the best high school pitchers in Southern California. He was drafted by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in the 16th round of the 2000 MLB draft. But after one season in the minor leagues, Shields underwent serious shoulder surgery that caused him to miss the entire 2002 season.
His once flourishing baseball career was in jeopardy. He needed a lifeline.
One day in 2003, it came from his older cousin who was close to becoming a star with the White Sox.
“He was going through some issues,” Rowand said. “He was having some arm problems and during the offseason he wasn’t doing a whole lot with his workouts. He had a kid so he was busy with that. Baseball just wasn’t his priority during the offseason.”
Shields and his fiancé were living with his mom and dad in California. Rowand called from his home in Las Vegas and delivered a friendly, family ultimatum.
“I just called his mom and said, ‘Tell Jamie he’s coming up here. He’s going to move up here. Tell him he’s going to come up here to workout with me and we’re going to try to make sure he gets the best chance possible and make a push in his career and not let it spiral out of control with injuries.'"
Shields got the message. Actually, he got much more than that.
“My trainer got him on a program, and over the course of a few years he went from not having much of a work ethic to probably having the best work ethic of anybody I have ever seen and he has continued that on throughout his career,” Rowand said. “But it wasn’t me who did it. He was the one who put the work in. He’s the one who dedicated himself to being who he was going to become and eventually did become.”
What Shields has become is one of the most durable pitchers in baseball. He has started 33 or 34 games in eight consecutive seasons. The only other active pitcher who comes close to that is Blue Jays knuckleballer R.A. Dickey — who’s done it for four.
With the back end of the White Sox rotation often going less than six innings, Shields seems to be the perfect remedy — not just for the starting staff, but to the bullpen whose weakened arms have begun to turn to jelly.
“He’s a guy who can eat up innings, he’s going to give you quality starts, he’s going to save your bullpen and give them extra days rest,” Rowand explained. “You don’t have to go quite often to the bullpen as early in the game and I think as far as what they already have in that clubhouse, I think he’s going to fit right in and they’re not going to skip a beat. And I think that winning attitude and what he brings with his experiences, I think it will do nothing but help what they already have going on.”
Wednesday night in Vegas, Rowand will have the television on, watching his cousin take the mound at U.S. Cellular Field, wearing a White Sox uniform for the very first time.
“I love him to death. I’m proud of him. I look at him more like a little brother than a cousin.”
At the end of the night, the White Sox are hoping to call Shields something else.
They haven’t seen too many of them lately. Maybe Shields can be the start of it.