NEW YORK -- His introduction to the big leagues hasn't been quite the way Tommy Shields dreamed it would be, but it has postponed his retirement.
"I had pretty much decided if I didn't come up this year, I was going to retire," Shields said. That decision had been reached despite the urging of several people, including Jerry Narron, manager of the Rochester Red Wings, the Orioles' Triple-A affiliate, that he give himself at least another year.
"Jerry and a few other Triple-A managers told me to hang in there," Shields said. "They told [me] they thought I could play up here -- but that doesn't mean anything until you do it."
Though he was hitting .281 with a career-high seven homers, he was thinking about a different career.
"I had applied for graduate school [at the University of Massachusetts]," said Shields, who graduated from Notre Dame and envisioned a degree in sports administration.
"It's not that I don't love the game," said the infielder, "just that I couldn't afford it. It seemed like it was time to start thinking about something else. But Jerry kept telling me that even if I didn't go up [this year], there was expansion to think about. It would've been a decision for me to make."
Still, it was the possibility of a September call-up that seemed to be Shields' best hope of putting his education on hold.
Then suddenly, and tragically, Shields found out his dream of getting to the big leagues had come true.
The death of Tim Hulett's 6-year old son, Sam, had left the Orioles with a temporary vacancy. Shields said he could hardly have envisioned a more devastating development.
Shields hit .289 in 116 games for Rochester last year after the Orioles obtained him from the Pittsburgh Pirates for minor-league infielder Tony Beasley. It took him three years (including 1987, when he didn't play because of a shoulder injury) to get out of Single-A.
He spent 1 1/2 years at Double-A and was in his third year at Triple-A when he got the call from the Orioles. "It hasn't exactly been a meteoric rise," said Shields.
He made his major-league debut the day he joined the Orioles (Saturday), as a pinch runner for Sam Horn -- and was only a base hit away from catching in his first game in the big leagues. Jeff Tackett and Rick Dempsey were out of the game when Brady Anderson's liner was caught for the final out with the tying run on second base.
"Some of the guys were laughing about it, saying they would have liked to have seen that -- but I was rooting for Brady to hit one out of the park," said Shields.