© 2005 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.
Returning to the scene of the accident as a San Diego Padre about to make PETCO Park his spacious new home, Mike Cameron couldn't miss the strange twist of fate presented by the baseball gods.
"Maybe it's a test from a higher power to come back to the same place," Cameron said, recalling a violent Aug. 11 collision with Mets teammate Carlos Beltran that ended his 2005 season six weeks prematurely. "I guess the good Lord wants me to get rid of my fears.
"Everything's going to be all right."
If Cameron patrols center field and its gaps the way the Padres believe he can, there's a fine chance things will be more than all right at PETCO Park in 2006.
In a swap of proven goods for promise, Cameron is changing coasts, moving from New York to San Diego in exchange for Xavier Nady.
Satisfied after a battery of tests that Cameron has no lingering vision problems from his collision with Beltran in right-center, the Padres signed off on a deal that brings them a Gold Glove center fielder with power and speed at the expense of an outfielder/first baseman with tremendous raw power and enticing tools.
Cameron, who turns 33 on Jan. 8, suffered two broken cheekbones, a broken orbital socket and a broken nose in the collision. Dr. Jose Quiceno of Scripps Clinic gave the Padres a thumbs up after putting the athlete through what Padres general manager Kevin Towers called a "very thorough physical" that he "passed with flying colors" on Friday.
"I'm pretty much as close to 100 percent as you can get," said Cameron, claiming his vision actually has improved since the collision to 20/15. "I'll be ready in two weeks if they need me to play.
"I didn't have to rehab anything. My limbs are fine. It was all facial injuries. I had to lose my beauty for three months."
Cameron said he's delighted to end the Padres' quest for a center fielder to cover the vast gaps at PETCO Park and serve as an elixir to the pitching staff while entertaining fans with his high-energy performance.
He visualizes good times ahead as he returns to his natural position with renewed enthusiasm for the game.
"I had a lot of time to think," he said, referring to the weeks of recovery. "I just realized how truly blessed I am to get an opportunity to play baseball. I appreciate the Padres giving me the opportunity to [realize] my dream of playing center field on a good baseball team.
"Hopefully, I can keep myself healthy and give us the best opportunity to win the National League West again."
It won't be known for a while who will flank Cameron in the Padres' outfield, with Brian Giles' free agency the big issue.
Leadoff catalyst Dave Roberts is expected to move from center to left, hopefully saving him the rash of injuries that made his '05 season so painful. Right could be manned by young Ben Johnson or a free agent such as Jacque Jones. Ryan Klesko likely is moving to first, especially now with Nady gone.
A right fielder with the Mets in 2005 after they signed Beltran to play center, Cameron won Gold Gloves in 2001 and 2003 as the Mariners' center fielder, making the spectacular play almost routine.
He denies that he tried to force his way out of New York with a demand to play center, calling those reports "a farce." Shifting to right to accommodate Beltran, Cameron felt he could have captured another Gold Glove in 2005 if he hadn't been injured.
"To get back in center field and put my name back in the hat is going to be very interesting, I'll tell you that much," he said when asked if a third Gold Glove will be a goal in '06.
Towers alluded to Cameron's power as another plus in the deal, suggesting Cameron can take advantage of PETCO Park's relatively inviting left-field fences. This is a man who three times in his career has reached 25 homers in a season in difficult hitters' parks, in Seattle and New York -- a man who once homered four times in a game.
Cameron batted a career-high .273 in '05 with 12 home runs, 39 RBIs, 47 runs scored, 13 stolen bases and a .342 on-base percentage in 76 games. He'd missed the season's first month recovering from wrist surgery.
The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Cameron, across 11 Major League seasons with the White Sox, Reds, Mariners and Mets, has a career batting average of .249 with 173 home runs and 625 RBIs. He has scored 690 runs and stolen 229 bases in 1,268 games.
An American League All-Star in 2001, Cameron is one of just 12 active Major Leaguers with more than 170 home runs and 220 or more stolen bases.
Towers has coveted Cameron for a long time, repeatedly trying to pry him loose from Mets general manager Omar Minaya.
With their three-year offer after the 2003 season, the Mets outbid the Padres for Cameron's services as a free agent. He'll earn $6 million in 2006 with a 2007 team option for $7 million or a $500,000 buyout.
Nady's future with the Mets could be in right field -- he comes equipped with a strong arm and better-than-average speed -- or at first base. There also is a possibility he'll be included in a package designed to acquire a proven slugger such as Manny Ramirez of the Red Sox or Carlos Delgado of the Marlins.
Nady, who turned 27 this week, earned $1.138 million in 2005 -- $488,000 in salary, $650,000 in bonuses based on roster time.
A native of Carmel, Calif., who grew up in Salinas, Nady was a second-round choice in the 2000 First-Year Player Draft out of the University of California.
Playing multiple positions while filling in for injured teammates, Nady was unable to find what he wanted most in San Diego: a regular job. He batted .261 with 13 homers and 43 RBIs in 124 games and 326 at-bats in '05, mirroring his career average of .263 in 269 games across three seasons, with 25 homers and 91 RBIs in 775 at-bats.
Tantalyzing fans with eye-popping displays of power, notably during a stretch in late June when he homered in four straight games, Nady became a popular figure in San Diego.
"I'm good friends with 'X' and I hate to see him go," Padres second baseman Mark Loretta said. "Hopefully, his career will take off and he'll go on and do some great things.
"To have a center fielder like Cameron who can go get the ball is going to be beneficial, especially in our ballpark. This could be one of those win-win trades for both clubs."