For his "Baseball Notes" column in yesterday's Boston Globe, Nick Cafardo talked to Gary Sheffield. And when asked about letting go of playing the outfield and fully embracing being a designated hitter this season, which is the tune he was singing at the beginning of Spring Training, Sheffield begrudgingly accepted his role.
Asked whether he would play the outfield in spring training, he said, "No, they won't let me. They ain't thrown me out there, no."
Will he ask?
"I asked last year and I got in trouble. So I'm leaving that subject alone."
Has he grown accustomed to DHing?
"No. I'll never get used to that. I'm a complete ballplayer and I like to play both ends, but if this is my role, I just have to accept it.
By pointing this out, I'm not trying to say Sheffield is trying to cause controversy. No, this is another example of, pardon the expression, Sheff being Sheff. If there's one thing we've learned about him in his two-plus seasons with the Tigers, it's that he'll answer any question posed to him. It's not necessarily a matter of getting something off his chest. But if a reporter happens to hit the right button, they'll get an honest answer. And judging from how much Cafardo has written about Sheffield in recent years, it's probably fair to say they have a decent relationship and Sheff feels comfortable talking to him.
Cafardo has also been on record all winter long that he thinks Sheffield will have a big comeback year. Of course, that came up in their conversation, as well.
While the numbers don't show it yet, Sheffield believes, "I'm back to where I was, and now I don't have to worry about somebody beating me with a fastball. They were trying to get me to think fastball and then they'd get me out with a breaking ball but now I can sit back and wait.
"I'm not going into the season not knowing what I'm going to be able to give. Now I know what I'm going to be able to give."
Perhaps the most surprising topic in the interview, however - at least to me - is that Sheffield thinks he has plenty more baseball left in him.
"Based on how I feel now, I feel I can play a lot more years," he said. "My legs are under me. I'm still running good. I know I can still play the outfield. Any opportunity that presents itself, I'm going to be able to do it."
That noise you just heard was a roar of dismay from Tiger Town. Raise your hand if you thought this would be his final season? Of course, it still may be, depending on how he performs in 2009. But this will almost certainly be his last year in Detroit. Cafardo mentions Sheffield being 385 hits away from 3,000 as being a possible motivator, but reaching that would take three fully healthy seasons from him. And how likely would that be at 40 years old?
How about we see how 2009 goes first, Sheff?