World Series champs has a nice ring to it

By on November 7, 2019

The World Series returned to Washington, D.C. for the first time since 1933 this fall and Lititz’s Tommy Shields (center), along with his son Connor (left) and Drew Weiler (right) were there to see it.

Shields reflects on Nationals’ title

When Juan Soto hit a go-ahead home run for the Washington Nationals in Game Six of the World Series last Tuesday night, no one was happier than Tommy Shields.

As Anthony Rendon circled the bases after going yard in Washington’s Game Seven-clinching win the next evening, Shields was no doubt doing a fist pump or two from his living room in Lititz.

What you should know about the 55-year-old baseball lifer is that he’s a field coordinator in the Nationals’ front office.

So he was invested in this Fall Classic.

“It’s a very likable team of guys, it really is,” Shields said. “It’s probably the most likable team we’ve ever had. It’s fun to see those guys that you worked with have the success that they had.”

Fun is one word.

There were other emotions for Shields as well, particularly in the clinching game last Wednesday night, as the Astros took a 2-0 lead behind Zack Greinke before Washington rallied to win 6-2.

“Very nerve-wracking,” Shields said. “It was exciting. It was the culmination of a lot of hard work by those guys. You’re living and dying with every pitch. We had never done anything in the playoffs. We had always lost in the first round.”

As someone who has been around pro baseball for 34 years, Shields knows as well as anyone that the game isn’t over until the final pitch.

His cell phone was nearby as Nats’ reliever Daniel Hudson was closing out the victory, but Shields couldn’t let his guard down.

Not even when his mom called in the ninth inning.

“I didn’t dare take the call,” he said. “I thought it was bad mojo because we had a four-run lead and I know why she was calling, (to ask), ‘Are you excited about winning it?’ I didn’t want to take that call, so I didn’t take it.”

Shields no doubt talked to his mom later. And that was just the first of a long list of to-dos.

He had 156 texts awaiting him Thursday morning.

“Just from guys all throughout the industry of baseball, rooting for us and congratulations,” Shields said. “So it’s been a lot of fun.”

The connections he has made from his time in the game are many. It all started with a nine-year playing career in the Pirates’, Orioles’ and Cubs’ systems after being drafted by Pittsburgh out of Notre Dame in the 15th round in 1986.

He played in 22 big-league games with the Orioles and Cubs in 1992 and 93.

“I made the club out of ‘93 with the Cubs and that was exciting, going north with the club,” Shields said. “But then I just bounced up and down between the big leagues and Triple-A, and I told (wife) Melonni, ‘If I’m not back in the big leagues at age 30, I’m going to retire and go to grad school.’”

Right after grad school in 1995, he coached for a half-year in the Orioles’ minor leagues, then was a manager in their system for three years in the Gulf Coast, South Atlantic and Carolina Leagues.

“When I retired I never thought I’d be back in the game,” Shields recalled, “and Baltimore called and wanted me to manage.”

From there, he went to the St. Louis Cardinals’ organization for seven years, serving as an area scout and manager. Next, Shields moved onto the Atlanta Braves as an infield coordinator and field coordinator from 2006-11, then spent three years with the Kansas City Royals serving in the roles of manager and special assignment scout.

“I would scout the top-five round guys all around the country,” he said, “and then once the short-season started, I’d manage that club.”

In 2015, Shields pulled on the Nationals’ curly W hat, and he has relished his five years there.

“I love the Nationals,” he said. “I’m happy what I’m doing. I’ve been around long enough where I know how lucky it is to have these jobs.”

Shields also knows how lucky he is to be receiving a World Series ring. In 2004 and 2014, he won pennant rings with the Cardinals and Royals, respectively. But this will be his first one commemorating a championship.

“They’re hard to get,” Shields said.

His job &tstr; along with that of co-field coordinator Jeff Garber &tstr; is essentially to manage the Nats’ minor league staffs, communicating frequently with managers, pitching coaches, and coordinators.

“In spring training, when we kick off the minor league camp after big league camp, it’s to set the program for what we want to accomplish,” Shields said. “Then I’ll travel around to all the clubs. About twice a month, I’ll get to all the clubs and make sure we’re doing things the right way &tstr; our early work, fundamentals, making sure we run the game the right way, making sure the clubhouse is going the right way and trying to help them in any way you can. Our staffs are tremendous. It’s not like these guys haven’t been through the wars. They’ve all been through it and I played with a lot of them and know a lot of them. Really, once the season starts, you’re trying to just support them any way you can.”

His time in big-league spring training camp has allowed him to get to know players who have come up through Washington’s system. Guys such as Rendon, Soto, pitcher Steven Strasburg, shortstop Trea Turner, and first baseman Ryan Zimmerman.

Soto, a 21-year-old phenom, is especially near and dear to Shields.

In 2016, Shields saw him play in the Dominican Republic. The next season, his travels took him to the Gulf Coast League to check out Soto.

“(Assistant General Manager and Vice-President, Player Personnel) Doug Harris had me go watch him for five days down in the GCL,” Shields recalled, “and he was like, ‘What do we got?’ And I said, ‘We’ve got the most special cat I’ve ever seen. Don’t ever trade this dude.’”

It was Shields who broke the news to Soto that he would start the 2018 season with Class A affiliate Hagerstown after an injury-marred campaign one year earlier.

“I was saying to him, ‘Look, this is not where you’re going to end up,’” he said.

In the time since Soto signed with the Nationals as an international free agent in July of 2015, Shields has worked and talked with him quite a bit.

So yes, he is special to Shields.

“He came up through our system, I know him very well,” Shields said. “Melonni calls him our fifth child.”

If Soto happened to look into the Nationals Park seats for Games Three, Four and Five of the World Series, he would have seen the Shieldses there decked out in Nationals’ apparel. Their four children &tstr; Kelsey, Derrick, Samantha and Connor &tstr; were either at the games or keeping a keen eye on the events.

What anyone following the Fall Classic witnessed was a rare bit of history. Home field advantage went for naught, as the visiting team won every game.

“I don’t know if it’s ever happened in sports in a seven-game series,” Shields said. “It’s unbelievable. It was so apropos how we won all those games because we were losing every elimination game in the seventh inning and we won all of five of them. So it was great.”

Nerve-wracking, but great.

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