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‘It Feels Strange,’ Dodger Fielder Says : Shelby Finally Secure About Big Leagues

From Associated Press

John Shelby says he finally feels secure about being an established regular in the big leagues. But he admits to having some difficulty handling such a concept.

“This is the first time I’ve ever felt real comfortable,” the Los Angeles Dodgers’ center fielder said. “I guess I can finally say I’m established. I can finally work hard, prepare myself for the season without having to win a job.

“But I can’t take too much for granted. I don’t ever want to get to the point where I sit back and relax. It feels strange, knowing I’m starting spring training games and coming out early. I’ve never been in that situation. It used to be I waited until the starters came out before I got a chance to play.”

Shelby got his big chance 22 months ago when the Dodgers acquired him from Baltimore for reliever Tom Niedenfuer.

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Shelby wasn’t even a major-leaguer at the time--he was playing for Rochester of the International League--so he wasn’t sure what to expect. He found out quickly.

The Dodgers weren’t going anywhere in 1987--they finished 73-89 for the second straight year--but they found a center fielder. Shelby played in 120 games and hit .277, with 21 home runs and 69 runs batted in.

Strained Muscle

Before the 1988 season, the Dodgers signed outfielders Kirk Gibson and Mike Davis as free agents, and Shelby said he had some doubts entering spring training.

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Shelby began the season as the starting center fielder, but after a slow start, he suffered a strained abdominal muscle and was placed on the disabled list April 19.

“I was wondering what would happen when I came back,” he said. “But (Dodgers Manager) Tommy (Lasorda) told me I was going to be playing when I came back. That gave me a big lift.”

Upon returning, Shelby went hitless in his first game, then began a major league-high 24-game hitting streak the next day and wound up playing in a career-high 140 games and hitting .263 with 10 homers and 64 RBIs.

Perhaps even more important was his solid defensive play--he made only six errors all season and covered a lot of ground.

‘Knew We Could Do It’

With Shelby as a solid contributor, the Dodgers won the National League West title, the NL playoffs and the World Series.

“It was exciting,” he said. “When you’re up against odds like we were and you go out and do it, it makes it more enjoyable. After we beat the (New York) Mets (in the playoffs), we knew we could do it.

“The statistics favored the Mets and Oakland. I think that’s what everyone looked at but us. If we had looked at that and believed it, we wouldn’t have had a reason to show up.”

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Shelby believes that the Dodgers have a good chance to repeat as champions, something no team has done since the New York Yankees won consecutive titles in 1977 and 1978.

“We’ve got a strong enough club to do it,” he said. “We’ve got the club to be a contender. Along with the other clubs, we’ve strengthened ourselves.

“But . . . there’s a lot of stuff tied into having a good season. Last year, we were blessed. It was a team victory the whole way. Everything was team, everybody contributed.”

Shelby smiled when asked about individual goals.

“I’ve never been in a position to set goals,” he said. “Last season was the first time I ever came into a season as a starter.

“I have some goals, but I prefer to keep them to myself. I don’t set unreasonable goals. I figure I can hit .270 or above. I figure I can hit 10 or more homers. The most important thing is to be blessed with good health.”

Last year, Shelby wasn’t blessed with good health throughout the season.

“That’s why I don’t like to set goals,” he said. “You can’t make up for lost time, so there’s no use worrying about it.”

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