Late in spring training in 1991, the Pittsburgh Pirates traded Tommy Shields to the Baltimore Orioles for fellow infielder Tony Beasley.
“He’s a great guy,” said Shields, who turned 56 on August 14th. “He’s had a battle with cancer (in 2016), which looks like he has beaten, which is great.”
Those two baseball lifers from Virginia would be connected after their playing days as coaches in the Washington Nationals’ system.
Fredericksburg native Beasley was a coach for the Nationals under the late Frank Robinson in 2006 and was also a manager in the minor-league system before joining the coaching staff of the Texas Rangers.
Shields, who was born in Fairfax, played in two games for the Orioles in 1992 and then in 20 games the following year for the Cubs.
After serving as a manager in the minor-league system of Baltimore, he is now the co-field director in player development with the Nationals.
“Most of the day consists of where we do some defensive work, maybe PFP with pitchers, then moving to BP, which goes very fast,” Shields told Federal Baseball. “When they called up those guys to the taxi squad (in New York), it left us with just six position players.”
The Nationals got some reinforcements when catcher Israel Pineda, 20, was added to the 60-player pool Sunday. Baseball America reported Friday MLB may allow teams to add 15 players to the pool.
“We have a game an hour later when the pitchers face the hitters,” Shields added. “We make it as realistic as possible. When we bring in relievers, we sometimes will put a runner on second base to replicate an extra inning. The guys are getting plenty of at-bats. Our hitters have been really good. Fredericksburg is a great ballpark, but it is really hitter-friendly. The ball really flies out of there.”
Shields share duties in player development with Jeff Garber, a former shortstop at James Madison University. Garber, in 13 years with Washington, has worked with infielders such as Ryan Zimmerman, Anthony Rendon, Trea Turner, and Wilmer Difo – and many others who didn’t make the majors.
“We have a great relationship,” Shields said. “I have so much respect for Jeff. He is such a hard worker.”
Mark Scialabba, assistant general manager, player development with the Nationals, has worked with Shields for several years. Scialabba notes the former big leaguer has a degree from Notre Dame and Master’s in Sports Management from UMass-Amherst.
“All of these experiences provide him with a great deal of wisdom and a very unique perspective,” according to Scialabba, who played Division III baseball in New England at Williams. “He uses each lens to lead both our players and staff in our development process and his creativity and passion for teaching young players the game sets the tone for our staff to follow.”
Shields was an infielder in the minors and majors and this summer got to watch Luis Garcia, a top infielder prospect for the Nationals. The 20-year-old played at Double-A Harrisburg last year, was part of the taxi squad in New York last week, and then made his Major League debut in Baltimore this past weekend.
“The first thing about Luis that impresses you is not the tools, which are abundant, but is his innate confidence,” Shields said. “Luis has a ton of confidence. He is always smiling on the field. He never lets an at-bat bother him. He is always thinking he is going to do great things. That is a tremendous tool to have.”
“The second thing, he has a lot of tools. He has great hands in the field, he has an accurate arm, he can turn the baseball very fast at second base, he has a strong arm and he has great bat to barrel skills. His barrel finds the baseball. He is starting to drive balls out to right-center. He is not going to have Juan Soto power, but he will be able to do damage when they make a mistake. He continues to work on shrinking the strike zone. Luis doesn’t think there is a ball he can’t hit. In a way he is correct. But we want to make sure he hits a pitch he can do damage with.”
Shields was a young boy when his family moved from Virginia to Massachusetts and then to Pennsylvania in the 1970s.
He played in college at Notre Dame and was drafted in the 15th round in 1986 by the Pirates. In the Pittsburgh system, he played in Woodbridge, Virginia in the Carolina League and with Harrisburg, Pa., in the Eastern League. Both of those cities were the home of Nationals’ affiliates in 2019.
After he was traded to the Orioles for Beasley, Shields was with Triple-A Rochester when he was called up to the Orioles under tragic circumstances in 1992.
Shields took the roster spot of Tim Hulett after the 6-year-old son of the veteran infielder was hit by a car and killed near Baltimore in July 1992. “That was a very difficult situation,” Shields said.
Before his first MLB call-up, Shields had played in Rochester in 1991 and 1992.
“I really enjoyed my time in Rochester. I have kept in touch with some of the players. The fans were tremendous up at old Silver Stadium. I loved playing there,” he said.
Shields played in 20 games for the Cubs in 1993 and hit .176.
After that, he eventually became a minor-league manager in the Baltimore system. He managed in 1996 with the Orioles in the Gulf Coast League and posted a mark of 36-24.
The next season, 1997, he moved up to the low Single-A South Atlantic League as the manager for the Shorebirds in the Baltimore system. The team was 77-65.
“In Delmarva, we had the youngest team in the league. We had Ryan Minor and Calvin Pickering that provided out the offense. We really didn’t have a bunch of offensive players. It was a really good league that year. There were a ton of big leaguers in the league that year,” he said.
“Our championship club that year, I think my outfield in 1,000 at-bats had 50 RBIs. Ryan took over for Cal (Ripken, Jr). briefly when Cal stepped down (to end The Streak in 1998). We had a really great bullpen that year,” Shields added. “We got enough offense and we ran a lot. I told managers when we exchanged the lineup, look, we run. I stay in touch with Ryan – he is a really good guy. That was a really fun year.”
The next year, 1998, Shields was the manager of the high Single-A Frederick (Md.) Keys of the Carolina League for a team that was 64-76.
“I had never really lost as a manager. It was a year when most of the guys from Delmarva squad skipped and went to Bowie,” he said. “I had an older group of guys who were disgruntled they didn’t go to Bowie. I had to learn how to lose. I took it hard that year. It was a very valuable experience for me.”
Shields then managed in the low minors for St. Louis from 2002-04 and then for Kansas City from 2012-14 before he joined the Nationals. He has a .503 winning percentage in nine seasons as a manager in the minors.
Shields and his wife, Melonni, who is from Idaho, met at Notre Dame. They have four adult children and live in Lititz, Pennsylvania, near Lancaster. Their youngest child attends Notre Dame, two of their children work in Pittsburgh and a daughter lives in Denver. “Lititz is a great place to raise a family. It is an idyllic little town,” he said.
Shields expects to be in Fredericksburg till the end of the Major League season. “That’s the plan. You don’t know what is going to happen. It’s a strange time for everybody,” he said.