Former White Sox star Rowand excited for 'little' cousin Shields

Former White Sox star Rowand excited for 'little' cousin Shields

CHICAGO -- When Aaron Rowand was a kid and playing baseball with his three cousins, the youngest of that group, Jamie, often was deemed too small to join in the action.

Jamie, as in James Shields, who figures to start Game 1 of the 2014 World Series this Tuesday against the Giants for his Royals in Kansas City.

"Believe it or not, Jamie was the runt who wanted to play with us," said Rowand via a phone interview concerning the Royals' ace and close family member. "We were always like, 'You are too small. Get out of here.' Now, he's taller than all of us."

Rowand carved out quite a Major League Baseball career over 11 years with the White Sox, Phillies and Giants, after being selected 35th overall in the 1998 First-Year Player Draft by the White Sox. He hit .273 with 136 homers, 536 RBIs, a .765 OPS, one All-Star appearance, one Gold Glove and a career WAR of 20.8.

There were World Series wins with the White Sox in '05 and Giants in '10, and of course his memorable win-at-all-costs, run-through-the-wall mentality that made him the center of the White Sox famous Grinder Rules in '05. But Shields, that one-time too little to play cousin and one of three sons for Rowand's mother's sister, has carved out his own highly successful niche.

Since '07 with the Rays, the right-handed throwing Shields has posted eight straight seasons with at least 30 starts made, 200 innings pitched, at least 160 strikeouts and double-digit wins. Shields has produced 249 1/3 innings, 227 2/3, 228 2/3 and 227 innings in each of the last four years, respectively. That sort of durability has left "Big Game James" as one of the crown jewels of the upcoming free agent market.

Part of that reason for Shields' on-field excellence can be attributed to help from his cousin. Shields was having arm troubles and couldn't stay healthy coming through the Minors, missing the entire '02 season because of right shoulder surgery. So, Rowand got his cousin involved with an intense offseason workout program in Las Vegas, run at Tim Soder Physical Therapy and Sports Rehabilitation, where Rowand was a charter participant in rehabbing the severe injuries suffered in a dirt bike accident from November, '02.

Shields told MLB.com in late September that he showed up a minute late for the first workout session, always beginning at 6 a.m., and Rowand told him to go home and not embarrass him, because it wasn't the work ethic they had there. When asked about that story, Rowand laughed and said, "That was pretty much word for word."

On one occasion, Rowand remembers Shields and a friend from the Rays' organization had enjoyed a night out in Las Vegas, but Shields slept in his car in the parking lot at Soder's facility to avoid being late for the workout. Shields eventually became the individual leading the offseason workouts for pitchers and showing the new guys the ropes at Soder's facility before he moved to Florida after going through those workouts for three offseasons.

"I'm not taking any responsibility because he's the one who put in the time and effort," said Rowand of Shields, who he keeps in steady contact with and played golf with in Las Vegas during a Shields' off-day last month. "He has one of the best work ethics of anyone I've ever been around in this game.

"He has done so well, and I think a lot of his success can be attributed to how hard he worked in the offseason. You can tell by his lack of arm injuries. He's in great shape. After those first couple of Minor League seasons, he started staying healthy, his velocity went up. He's a true talent, a true workhorse. I'm super pumped for where he is now."

This 32-year-old true talent and workhorse has made one previous World Series start and defeated the Phillies in '08. That Tampa team ultimately lost in five games.

Kansas City stands as a bit of a surprise entrant in the Fall Classic, although not to everyone. It was White Sox captain Paul Konerko who said during his retirement weekend that the '14 Royals featured similar elements as the '05 White Sox, and Rowand agrees with that assessment.

"Look at how it has gone for them: They have all the tools to go and compete on any given night. Speed and defense doesn't ever go in slumps," Rowand said. "And when you play that many close games during the course of a season, you don't tighten up, you don't get nervous. You are used to being in those situations. A calmness comes over you in those situations.

"We played so many close baseball games (in '05) that you tend to get used to that at the end of games with the game on the line. You don't get out of your element. You do what you are supposed to do."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Merk's Works, and follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.