Here is a summer wake-up call if there ever was one. There are only 25 more days until undergraduate classes start at Lincoln Memorial University (LMU). Just this week we welcomed the first-year medical students at LMU-DeBusk College Osteopathic Medicine and next week the second-years will join them. Twenty-five more days! Students should be packing up and faculty should be dusting off their lesson plans.
It’s a wake-up call like this that gets me thinking about the things I love about summer. I love the heat. Not heat indices in the triple digits heat that we are currently experiencing heat, but I love the nice 75-85 degree heat that usually accompanies summer around LMU. I love that we staff members have much of campus to ourselves over the summer. It is our time to bask in the beauty of our campus with activity at a slightly slower pace. I love watermelon, fresh berries and sweet peaches. And I love baseball.
Well actually, that is a lie. I really only tolerate baseball (sorry, I grew up in upstate NY and was raised on basketball and football), but I am getting to the real topic of this blog post. Summer is the time when baseball reigns supreme. It’s a time when all of us basketball and football fans have no choice but to tune in to the boys of summer.
It was during the summer about four years ago when I got my first real taste of Major League Baseball and experienced a shift in my views on baseball, and it was because of Scot Shields.
I joined the University in 2005 and during the first year, was pleased to meet and interview one of our most distinguished alumni, professional baseball player Scot Shields. He had been invited to campus for LMU Baseball Legends night, celebrated at a basketball game. It marked the first time he had returned to LMU since becoming one of the best relief pitchers in Major League Baseball (MLB). He was coming off a season where he had led the American League in holds and he was just three years removed from the Los Angeles Angels’ 2002 World Series Championship.
During that visit I was amazed at the openness Scot and his wife, Jaime, shared with the LMU community. In a special alumni meal served before the women’s basketball game, Scot and Jaime, who incidentally met at LMU where Jaime was a Lady Railsplitter Volleyball player, sat with alumni from their era and mingled with everyone at the dinner. It was apparent that Scot had fond memories of LMU and his classmates and was happy to be back.
Between games, Scot signed autographs in the Hall of Fame Room. He was patient and spoke with everyone. He even took off his World Series ring off and let many of the fans try it on. He joked with some of the younger kids and shared stories from the “big leagues” with the fathers. At the end of the visit, I had one thought: he is just like all the other LMU alumni I had encountered so far: nice, approachable and very fond of his alma mater. I knew from that visit on, I would follow Scot Shields’ career no matter if I worked at LMU or not.
Later, I helped organize a LMU outing to see Scot play. It was this trip that changed the way I looked at baseball all together. Since Scot played for Angels who were based on the West Coast, finding a game that was within driving distance of the University and fit in everyone’s schedules was a challenge. Ultimately, we selected a game in Cincinnati, when the Angels visited the Reds. I called the Reds organization and was able to get a block of tickets. We recruited alumni, faculty, staff and students to go and we were off. Arriving at the ball park early, we wanted to make sure we didn’t miss warm-ups. Scot was known for talking to fans during warm-ups and we weren’t disappointed. He came over and greeted our group and posed for pictures. Though we never got to see him play, the trip was a real highlight for everyone who went. For me, it changed the way I looked at baseball. To see the excitement of a live, major league baseball game in person was far superior to viewing what always seemed to be a slow game on T.V. But more than anything, seeing the players, not just Scot, but most of the players, connecting with the fans really changed my mind.
LMU hosted a handful of these road trips to see Scot play during his career. As summer dawned this year it was sad to think the Scot Shields road trips were no more. You see, LMU’s very own boy of summer was no more. On March 18, 2011, following two injury-hindered seasons, Scot Shields hung up his glove. He retired a highly efficient and effective setup man who had spent much of the last decade bridging the gap for the Angels between starter (or middle reliever) to closer.
Upon his retirement, Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said, “He evolved into the gold standard of what setup men are. He could’ve gone a lot of places and been a closer, but he was committed to this organization and this organization was committed to him.” Scioscia went on to say, “Scot accepted that role and became the best at it. He was about winning. If he had to take the ball in the seventh inning and pitch the ninth, he would have done it. Thirty years ago, he would have been getting two-plus, three-inning saves. That’s how good he was.”
Scot Shields made his major league debut on May 26, 2001. He spent his entire career with the Angels, a rare occurrence in this age of free agency. That season in 2005 before he visited LMU, it was the first of four consecutive seasons he would lead the American League in holds. He is the only former Railsplitter to ever play in or win a World Series title.
In summarizing his career with the Angels, he points to the Game 7 of the 2002 World Series as his most memorable moment in uniform, but he is also proud of the 2004 season when he and Francisco Rodriguez each boasted over 100 strikeouts in a season, a landmark achievement for bullpen mates. Shields had a 46-44 record and 3.18 career ERA, averaging 8.1 strikeouts per nine innings. In 697 innings pitched, opponents posted only a .228 batting average and .335 slugging percentage. Sports Illustrated named him Setup Man of the Decade and he is remembered fondly by Angels fans everywhere as one of the last remaining links to the ball club’s only World Series Championship.
As summer rolls on and the boys of summer keep taking the field, it is sad to think that Scot Shields will not be taking a mound somewhere, but it remains an honor to call him one of our own. Scot, I hope you are as proud to call yourself a Railsplitter as we are.