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BE LIKE MIKE


BE LIKE MIKE
Mike Cameron has been around too long to be giddy about a hot month.

And that's why the 36-year-old Cameron, a veteran of 12-plus major league seasons, was so nonchalant when asked about his smoking April.

"It was good," the Milwaukee Brewers' center fielder said. "... It starts all over, clean slate in May."

Still, Cameron's start to his second season with the Brewers has been worth lauding.

Apart from his usual outstanding work in the outfield and veteran presence in the still-rather-young Brewers clubhouse, he's been the club's most consistent hitter while striking out less and walking more in the early going.

After Saturday night's game against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Cameron is batting .313 - the second-best among Brewers regulars behind Ryan Braun - is tied for the clubhouse lead with five home runs and has driven in 15 runs, a total that is tied for third behind Prince Fielder and Braun.

"He's been unbelievable," Braun said. "All year he's really been locked in, just having great at-bats, really swinging the bat well and hitting the ball where it's pitched."

Cameron has always possessed power, with seven 20-homer seasons on his resume. He's four homers away from 250 for his career, which would make him only the 20th player in major league history with that many dingers to go along with at least 250 stolen bases (Cameron has 291).

So far this season, though, Cameron - a career .251 hitter - has been more selective at the plate.

A prodigious whiffer who's had at least 100 strikeouts in 11 seasons and led the Brewers with 142 last year (despite being suspended for the first 25 games after testing positive for a banned stimulant), he has 18 in 22 games thus far.

He's averaging a strikeout every 4.44 at-bats - compared to once every 3.13 last season and one per 3.59 for his career before this year.

Meanwhile, Cameron, who's always drawn quite a few walks, is on pace for a career high in free passes and has an on-base percentage of .404.

"I just think at this point in time his at-bats have been so good," said Milwaukee manager Ken Macha, who moved Cameron into the fifth spot in the lineup in place of struggling shortstop J.J. Hardy on April 22. "His pitch selection's been very good. He's been extremely disciplined on balls that he traditionally didn't handle very well.

"Ideally, you'd like a guy to maintain that, as far discipline's concerned. He's not going to be smoking the ball the whole season like he has been, but just be disciplined and not have yourself get you out instead of the pitcher getting you out."

Added Cameron: "Not missing the fastball. It ain't nothing new. Comfort, seeing the ball well, swinging at strikes. Just been able to lay off of bad pitches, and when I get a good pitch, I've been able to put it in play."

The trade that wasn't

Cameron was nearly headed to New York in the offseason.

The Brewers picked up his $10 million option, but were close to dealing him to the Yankees in mid-December - a move that would have saved Milwaukee money and brought back a younger center fielder in Melky Cabrera. But the trade broke down.

"I'm very happy to be here, but all that stuff, that doesn't really mean anything to me," said Cameron, who's also played with the White Sox, Reds, Mariners, Mets and Padres during his career. "I've been playing too long for that, man. I don't control that. ... All I can control is how well I play Baseball every day. That's all I have to be concerned with."

And the Brewers appear to have lucked out that the deal didn't go through - though general manager Doug Melvin said straightaway the team was content to bring back Cameron. Having a top-end defensive center fielder was paramount given the losses of co-aces CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets.

"Part of Mike Cameron being back here, picking up his option, was how difficult it is to have a good defensive center fielder and he's very important to a pitching staff like ours who is not going to strike out a lot of people," Melvin said. "The ball's going to be put in play and without Ben here, without CC, we're not going to have as many strikeouts, so it's going to be important we play good defense."

Cameron, a three-time Gold Glove winner, certainly does that.

He patrols the outfield with a certain smoothness, seemingly gliding from gap to gap. Macha pointed to a catch Cameron made on a drive by Astros center fielder Michael Bourn in the Brewers' 9-8 win April 25 in Houston.

"He made a miraculous catch out there," Macha said. "How many runs would have scored after that, you're not sure. But that was the 11-inning game, so he won us the game there. His defense is tremendous. But that just ties into the whole package of the guy."

Captain Clubhouse

Another valuable part of the package is Cameron's presence in a clubhouse that has added a few more veteran voices the past two seasons.

Chris Duffy, Cameron's backup in center, raved about his approachability and work ethic. Macha joked about how vocal Cameron was on the bench when given a day off last week, saying, "maybe I should play him every day so I don't have to listen to that."

Macha also said he's discussed various issues with Cameron, a member of four playoff teams after last year's wild card berth with the Brewers , to get his opinion. He even went so far as to say Cameron "should be the center of the advice" in the clubhouse for position players.

"I think he enjoys being with the young guys and he wants to be an example," Macha said. "That's nice. That makes the manager's job easier. I respect (former Minnesota Twins manager) Tom Kelly. He's a great manager and he won the World Series a couple of times.

"He had Kirby Puckett there. So when guys didn't run balls out, all you've got to do is say, 'Look at the way Kirby plays.' Look what Cam does to get ready, how he plays the game. He gets after it out there. He breaks up the double play. He's doing everything."


Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: May 5, 2009

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