MILWAUKEE -- Mike Cameron took his place in center field at Miller Park for Friday's exhibition game against the Royals, but it will be a while before he's back there again. Tony Gwynn Jr. will start in center field on Saturday against the Royals, and again Monday against the Cubs in Chicago, when the Brewers begin the regular season. Cameron, meanwhile, will begin serving a 25-game suspension levied by Major League Baseball over the offseason after twice testing positive for a stimulant banned under the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. If the Brewers are not rained out during the first month, Cameron, who blamed the positive tests on a tainted nutritional supplement, will be eligible to rejoin the team on April 29 in Chicago.
"A couple of days ago, the reality of it kind of just hit me," Cameron said Friday from one of the plush new armchairs in the Brewers clubhouse. "But I just take it as it is, man. Physically, I've done pretty good. Mentally, I'm going to watch every game. I should be OK." According to Brewers general manager Doug Melvin, the plan calls for Cameron to return to his home in Atlanta on Sunday or Monday for a few days of rest with his family. From Atlanta, he will head to Phoenix on Thursday for extended Spring Training, but will take a break from April 14-17 to join the Brewers in St. Louis. Then it's back to Phoenix for a few days before Cameron joins Triple-A Nashville for the final five games of his suspension. "That's all I'll need," Cameron said. The stop in St. Louis is intended to break the monotony of the month, Melvin said. Cameron can take early batting practice and visit with teammates, though rules stipulate that he must leave Busch Stadium before the gates open to fans. "We want him to get in the mind-set that he's a part of the team," Melvin said. "We want him to be around the guys. ... I've heard him say that [the suspension] hurts a little bit because you're ready to start the season. But he really impressed us in camp. He walks in the clubhouse and he sort of lights up the clubhouse." Cameron batted .351 with four home runs and led the Brewers with 15 runs scored during the Cactus League portion of Spring Training. He went 0-for-3 against the Royals on Friday and was replaced in center field in the top of the sixth inning by Gwynn. Manager Ned Yost called Cameron, a 13-year MLB veteran, one of the pleasant surprises of camp. Yost plans to install Cameron as the Brewers' No. 2 hitter upon his return. "I thought that Cameron was a good player. I didn't know he was that good," Yost said. "I hadn't seen him that much because he always played in different divisions." Cameron inked a one-year contract with Milwaukee on Jan. 14 that includes a club option for 2009. He'll forfeit about $772,000 of his $5 million base salary in 2008 because of the suspension, but he's guaranteed a $1.25 million signing bonus plus a $750,000 buyout for next season. If the Brewers exercise their option, Cameron will earn $10 million in 2009. Cameron was one of three high-profile free agents who signed with Milwaukee over the winter. Catcher Jason Kendall was brought in for his reputation as a solid game-caller, and the Brewers also placed a $10 million bet that closer Eric Gagne can bounce back from a second-half slump last season. Gagne carried a 6.43 Spring Training ERA into Friday's game but the other two pickups had played well. Kendall was hitting .356 entering Friday's start. "I just wanted to play well so my teammates would know what to expect of me," Cameron said. He says he likes the team's chances. "I've been able to see certain individuals play and, man, a couple of tweaks here and there, they could be pretty special," Cameron said. "It could be a special year. But, obviously, you still need to play the real games." Cameron, though, will have to wait.
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.