Thursday, July 20, 2006

Shelton's 2006 Story Teetering Between Having A Happy Ending, Or Not

For all of the wonderful stories coming out of Comerica Park this season, there's one that is curious, because we don't know if its ending will be happy, sad, or somewhere in between. But as it's playing out, it has the potential of being more on the sad side.

Chris Shelton. Big Red. C-Shell. Call him what you will. His looked like the story of the summer -- and it was just the second week of April. He went 14-for-20 to start the season, with a sackful of homeruns among those 14 hits. We already knew the kid could hit, but this was off the charts. I wrote here that I wondered how Shelton would handle things when the expected cooling down occurred.

Well, the cooling down occurred, alright. Quickly. We weren't very far into May when it happened, as Shelton's BA started to fall like a lead balloon. He looked confused at the plate. The swing suddenly became long and he was practically screwing himself into the ground after some whacks.

Through May it went, and into June. It got to the point where even a .300 BA was uncertain, and that was unheard of theretofor. Then some life was shown just before the All-Star break, and a little bit afterward.

But the story still isn't anywhere near as grand as those salad days of April.

As Chris Shelton spoke about it yesterday, in the clubhouse prior to the Tigers' 5-2 win over the White Sox, there was but one interloper at his locker. Me.

"I put some work in. I'm continuing to try to get the swing back where it needs to be. But it's a work in progress," Shelton said when I suggested he appeared to be coming out of his funk.

Moments earlier, he bristled when this intruder asked him a straightforward question. Namely, what was wrong in May and most of June?

"I don't know. I'm not going to answer that," Big Red said.


It was a delicate, yet potentially volatile scene, and the feeling was that he's growing weary of explaining himself to the media riffraff, like magazine editors, bloggers, and the like.

But thanks to his jackrabbit start, Shelton didn't have to feel weary at all talking about his swing -- when times were good.

"Nationally and locally it was great," he said of the early acclaim. "It's not usually my thing to want the spotlight, but the best part of it was that the team got off to a great start as well."

The Tigers aren't a team built upon the premise that they need one or two players to be firing on all cylinders in order to prosper. They win as a team, they lose as a team. But not before "playing nine innings" -- quickly becoming the team's mantra.

So the fact that Chris Shelton's hitting has slipped down to "spotty" on the grey scale of baseball measurement hasn't caused the Tigers' carefully-built house of cards to collapse. But it's also evident that a consistently-producing Shelton in the lower third of the batting order would be awfully nice to have.

And then maybe the Chris Shelton Story - 2006 -- can have a happy ending after all.


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