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James Shields
'Big Game James' got Giant assist

By Mychael Urban /

Rays right-hander James Shields, 26, grew up in Newhall, a district of Santa Clarita, Calif., where a local park features tours of the late silent-movie maker William S. Hart's mansion.

There's been nothing silent about Shields ascension to the game's biggest stage, though. With fewer than two seasons of big league experience under his belt, the young hurler signed a seven-year deal worth a reported $44 million with Tampa Bay earlier this year.

The big new contract isn't all Shields has earned since bursting onto the St. Petersburg scene by winning his first four big league decisions.

While emerging as the righty complement to lefty Scott Kazmir atop the Rays rotation, Shields earned the nickname "Big Game James," and the list of big games in which he's shined is already pretty impressive.

Near the top of the list has to be the 98-pitch, two-hit shutout he threw at the Red Sox in April, and it's impossible to ignore the one-hit shutout he delivered vs. the Angels two weeks later.

Shields finished the regular season with a 14-8 record and a 3.56 ERA, won his only start in the Rays' American League Division Series victory over the White Sox, posted a 3.46 ERA in two tough-luck losses to the Red Sox in the AL Championship Series and won Game 2 of the World Series with 5 2/3 shutout innings against the Phillies.

But without a little tough love from one of his cousins, Giants outfielder Aaron Rowand, Shields might not have made it this far.

About five years ago, Rowand took Shields under his wing, introduced him to a new conditioning program and generally taught the young right-hander all about what it takes to succeed at the game's highest level.

Age: 26

Newhall, Calif.

Hart High School (Calif.)

Team: TB

Video | Player bio
"You know, not many people get an opportunity to have a cousin that's in the big leagues and kind of show you the way," Shields said. "I was kind of being lazy and not really doing too much and just trying to let my talent take over, and that wasn't good enough.

"[Rowand] kind of grabbed me from California and said, 'Hey, look, man, why don't you come out and work out with me out in Vegas? I'm going to show you how big leaguers really work out and how to stay healthy every season and do what it takes to succeed in this game.'"

Rowand remembers back when Shields was a relentless little boy pestering Rowand and Jason Shields, James' older brother, in futile efforts to hang with the big boys. They didn't let him play, Rowand admitted, but now he marvels at the man Shields has become.

Shields remembers those days when he couldn't even get into the game. Now that he's played on the biggest of stages, in the 2008 World Series, he'll never forget what Rowand did for him as a young pro.

"To be able to have him do that for me and show me the way," Big Game said, "it was unbelievable."

Mychael Urban is a national writer for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.