Scot Shields with his mother Ida in the cornfield at the Field of Dreams in July 1998.
According to the movie Field of Dreams, the only ballplayers in its cornfield are ghosts, but I met a real live one there.
In July 1998, shortly after I started the FutureAngels.com web site, I made my first road trip to an Angels affiliate — the Cedar Rapids Kernels in Iowa.
While in Cedar Rapids, I planned to make the pilgrimage to Dyersville, where Field of Dreams was filmed on a farm just outside the town. The site welcomes visitors, honoring the adage, “If you build it, they will come.”
I issued an open invitation to the Kernels players to go with me, to bring their jerseys so I could take a photo of them in the cornfield. Reliever Jaymie Bane, the son of future Angels scouting director Eddie Bane, accepted so in the early morning we picked up his jersey and cap at the old Veterans Memorial Stadium and headed off for Dyersville, about a 90-minute drive.
When we arrived, we found Scot Shields and his mother Ida were already there. As a group, we headed out to the cornfield. I took photos of Jaymie in his uniform, then Scot borrowed Jaymie’s jersey and cap to pose as well.
At the time, Scot was considered a non-prospect. He was a rubber-armed reliever scout Tom Kotchman (Casey’s father) spotted pitching for tiny Lincoln Memorial University. The Angels selected him in the 38th round of the June 1997 draft, another in a long line of college seniors Kotch has drafted over the years to bolster the bullpen of his short-season teams. He appeared in 30 of the 76 games the Boise Hawks played that year, finishing with a 2.94 ERA in 52 innings, all in relief.
With the Kernels in 1998, Scot remained in that role, appearing in 58 of their 140 games, posting a 3.65 ERA in 74 innings.
Scot was promoted to Lake Elsinore in the High-A California League to begin the 1999 season, and there was every reason to think he’d remain in the bullpen perfecting his setup reliever specialty. But a rash of injuries to the Storm starting rotation during April forced Scot into the starting rotation by May.
And sent him on a fast track to the big leagues.
Scot Shields (left) being introduced at the 1999 California League – Carolina League All-Star game held in Lake Elsinore.
Scot pitched so well that he was named to the California League All-Star team. In nine starts, he had two complete games, including a shutout on July 7 at Stockton. His ERA in those nine starts was 2.08.
I’d just bought a camcorder, primitive by today’s standards, and decided to try it out filming Scot’s July 12 start against Rancho Cucamonga. Click here to watch. (Windows Media Player and a broadband Internet connection required). After that game, Scot was promoted to the Angels’ Double-A affiliate in Erie, Pennsylvania. In ten starts for the SeaWolves, he had a 2.89 ERA with 81 strikeouts in 74 2/3 innings. At season’s end, he was named the Angels’ minor league pitcher of the year.
So confident were the Angels in Scot’s abilities that they moved him up to Triple-A Edmonton for 2000. He finished the year with a 5.41 ERA in 27 starts, but this was the Pacific Coast League where high-octane ERAs are the norm. In 163 innings, Scot struck out 156, which led the PCL and set an Edmonton franchise single-season record.
A trip to Edmonton was beyond my pocketbook, but my wife and I planned a drive up north to intercept the Trappers on a road trip to central California. We saw Scot pitch at Fresno on June 8, then followed the team north to Sacramento.
Scot Shields pitches for Edmonton at Fresno on June 8, 2000.
The Angels’ Triple-A affiliation changed to Salt Lake for 2001, so Scot opened the season with the Stingers. He had 24 starts, but got his first major league promotion on May 25 and made his major league debut the next day in his home state at Tampa Bay, with his family in attendance.
In 2002, he returned to Salt Lake and also to the bullpen, as the Angels groomed him for the role he would have during most of his major league career — a rubber-armed reliever who could also spot start. He returned to Anaheim on June 14 and never looked back, playing an important role in the Angels’ world championship season. Scot in 2002 had a 2.20 ERA in 49 innings.
In those early years, there was still some sentiment that the Angels were better off with Scot in the starting rotation, and in 2003 he started 13 games, although after that the Angels kept him exclusively in the bullpen.
Scot announced his retirement on March 18 at age 35. He was only the third Angel with more than ten years of major league service to spend his entire big-league career with the Angels; the other two were Tim Salmon and Gary DiSarcina (the latter appeared briefly in the Red Sox’ minor league system before he retired). Sports Illustrated named Scot the “setup man of the decade” for 2000-2009.
I’ll always remember Scot as an easy-going fan-friendly young man who was a bundle of superstitions and rituals. He had a thing for McDonald’s hamburgers, never with any lettuce or pickles or any other condiments. When Star Wars: The Phantom Menace was released in May 1999, I remember sitting with him on the Lake Elsinore bench talking about the movie. Scot was excited because, “I’ve never seen Star Wars in the theatre before,” only on VHS, and I felt very old because I was part of a generation that never saw the films in first-run other than in a movie theatre. He swore he’d never give an interview until he reached the big leagues; but once he did, Scot was a regular chatterbox on Angels pre-game and post-game interviews.
Hopefully the Angels can find a place for Scot in the organization. He was a major part of Angels history in the 2000s and I can’t imagine him anywhere else other than with a halo on his cap.
Scot Shields pitching in Anaheim on March 30, 2002, the end of spring training.