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New In Blue

In a Dodger Uniform on His 32nd Birthday, Shaw Becomes an L.A. Kind of Star Tonight

July 07, 1998|ROSS NEWHAN

DENVER — He has pitched for four major league teams in a 12-year professional career, but he will be introduced before tonight's All-Star game in the uniform of a team for which he has yet to pitch.

In the 69-year history of the midsummer exhibition, it's a first.

Jeff Shaw didn't have to be told.

"Flying in [Sunday] night, I was thinking how weird it was going to be to get to my locker and find a uniform I've never even worn," he said Monday.

"I mean, this has been a crazy five days, a week I'll never forget."

He is here as a Dodger, after having been selected to his first All-Star game because of his accomplishments as the Cincinnati Reds' closer.

He was traded by his hometown team on Saturday, but he won't appear in the Dodger bullpen until Thursday's series opener with the San Diego Padres in Los Angeles.

In fact, if the mail isn't on time today, he may not even appear in his Dodger uniform until then, because on Monday he was outfitted in a combination of something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue--but as he noted, "I could be wearing a pink uniform and still be happy."

Instead, he wore a blue Dodger cap, a green National League All-Star jersey with a Dodger logo (no, Fox hasn't changed it yet) on the sleeve, white pants that were a little too big and belonged to Raul Mondesi and had been shipped here in anticipation of Mondesi's possible selection, and white and blue workout shoes provided by new Dodger teammate and fellow All-Star Gary Sheffield.

Did he feel like a Dodger yet?

"I feel like a Dodger outfielder," Shaw said, referring to Sheffield's footwear and Mondesi's pants.

A complete uniform is being shipped from Los Angeles, so Shaw hopes to have at least that one package to open today--which on top of everything is his 32nd birthday.

"Any time you're an All-Star on your birthday, it's got to be a happy one," he said. "Besides, I'm then headed to a team with a chance to go to the playoffs, which makes it even better."

Shaw might not have noticed, but the young and rebuilding Reds are almost as close to the lead in the National League Central, 15 games, as the Dodgers are in the NL West, 13 1/2 games. Then again, he can be excused for trying to put the best face possible on a trade uprooting his hometown attachments.

"The shock still hasn't worn off," acknowledged Shaw, who had been hearing and reading rumors about possible deals with the Seattle Mariners, Atlanta Braves and Dodgers but didn't think it would happen until next year, despite the Reds' ongoing turnover.

Of course, the Reds had refused to give him a no-trade clause in April when he agreed to a three-year extension at $8.4 million, so "I have to accept the ramifications" of signing an undervalued contract rather than becoming a free agent after the current season.

"It didn't matter to me what the market might bear," Shaw said. "To be able to make the hour drive [from his suburban Cincinnati home in Washington Court House] was a dream come true. If you look at my numbers the last 2 1/2 years in Cincinnati [compared to what he'd done before], there's something to be said for playing at home. I got to mow the grass and drive the kids to school. It was like working the swing shift."

Shaw was born and raised in Washington Court House, and married Julie, his high school sweetheart. His son Travis, 7, goes to school there. His daughter, Molli, 3, soon will. His parents live there.

Julie and the kids will accompany Shaw to Los Angeles for this first Dodger homestand after the break, but the immediate plan is for Travis and Molli to return to Ohio during the school year while Shaw lives in a rented house in the Los Angeles area.

If home cooking contributed to his success with the Reds, does the trade jeopardize it?

"I've developed so much confidence in myself as a person and pitcher the last couple years that I feel I can play anywhere," he said. "You bounce around as a young player and begin to doubt yourself. As an older player with some success, I'm better prepared to handle it.

"I realize I'm being asked to perform an important job on a high-profile team, but I'm not putting any more pressure on myself than I have been. I feel saving games in L.A. will be no different than it was in Cincinnati. No relief pitcher is going to convert every opportunity. How you bounce back is the key, and I believe I've done that very well."

It's been a strange odyssey in which the resilient Shaw never envisioned himself as a major league closer until he emerged as the league leader with 42 saves last year. He was a first-round selection of the Cleveland Indians in the January phase of the 1986 draft, endured 17 consecutive losses in his third minor league season, bounced between Cleveland and the minors for three years, was released and signed by the Montreal Expos, was released and signed by the Chicago White Sox, was released and signed by the Reds.

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