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“He’s the best dad out there” 

Photo courtesy of Mike Cameron

Tigers outfielder Daz Cameron navigates life in the majors with help and wisdom from his father

By Jerry Crasnick

Daz Cameron made a declarative statement with his first MLB home run. The only missing piece was the punctuation mark.

After Cameron hit a two-run shot to lift the Tigers into a 4-4 tie with the White Sox on June 11, he dropped the bat and circled the bases, slapping hands with third base coach Chip Hale and the batboy before exchanging a high-five with Willi Castro at home. Only later did it occur to him that teammate Akil Baddoo had requested he pause to simulate a bow-and-arrow motion while rounding third.

“In the moment I was like, ‘Let’s go! Let’s go!’ ’’ Cameron said. “There was so much commotion and everyone was so hyped, I got caught up in the moment. Then I got to the dugout, and everybody was lined up and jumping up and down. It was like the animation you see in a video game after a guy hits a homer.’’

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As the product of an old school baseball environment in a new-age world, Cameron is occasionally challenged to reconcile modern showmanship with the clubhouse lessons he learned as a child. It promises to be quite an adventure.

 

Like Cody Bellinger, Bo Bichette, Fernando Tatis Jr., Cavan Biggio, Nick Gordon, Adalberto Mondesi and Ke’Bryan Hayes, to name a few, Cameron is one of several 2021 big leaguers making his way in the world while carrying on the family tradition. There’s no more poignant reminder than Father’s Day of the generational ties that bind.

Mike Cameron, Daz’s dad, hit 278 homers, won three Gold Gloves and made an All-Star team in a 17-year career with the White Sox, Mariners, Mets, Padres, Brewers, Red Sox, Reds and Marlins. In 2002, after becoming the 13th player in MLB history to hit four home runs in a game, he was rewarded in the clubhouse with a cape, a crown and a beer shower. “It couldn’t happen to a nicer young man,’’ Seattle manager Lou Piniella said at the time.

Cameron retired in 2011 and has spent the past two years as a special assignment coach for the Mariners. He took a break from work for a family trip to Anaheim to see his son during the Tigers-Angels series this weekend. 


Dazmon Jaroid Cameron, the oldest of Mike and JaBreka Cameron’s four children, was two years old and lugging around a plastic bat and ball when he ambled up to future Hall of Famer Barry Larkin’s locker in the Cincinnati clubhouse. He ate post-game ice cream cones while scooping up the assorted wisdom of Edgar Martinez and Rickey Henderson in Seattle, and spent summer nights hanging around the indoor batting cage in Milwaukee when infielder Billy Hall would pass through for some fine-tuning and put him to work. “Little Cam, can you flip me some tennis balls?’’ Hall would say.

 

Young Daz absorbed his lessons through observation and osmosis, from one city to the next, and felt the impact on and off the field.

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Photo courtesy of Mike Cameron

“Baseball can teach you about life itself, with all the ups, downs and adversity,’’ he said. “You play the game to have fun. But the game gives you a mentality of being a solid person at the end of the day. It can humble you.’’

The Camerons took different routes to pro ball. Mike, a two-time MVP at the Clint Hurdle Big League Experience Camp as a teenager, received a $40,000 bonus as an 18th round selection by the White Sox in 1991. Daz, a product of the acclaimed East Cobb baseball program in Atlanta, was projected as a top five pick in 2015. He dropped to 37th because of his reported asking price before the Astros gave him a $4 million bonus to dissuade him from a commitment to Florida State.

Once the Camerons were in the fold, history repeated itself. In 2000, the Reds sent Mike to Seattle as part of a five-player trade for Ken Griffey Jr. In 2017, the Astros sent Daz to Detroit as part of a five-player-trade for Justin Verlander. Mike leaned on his defense and speed to reach the majors while hitting .259 in the minors. The same for Daz, who hit .249 in 481 minor-league games.

Through it all, dad was always available as a sounding board and encourager-in-chief. When Daz was playing for Team USA’s Gold Medal winning team at a Pan Am tournament in 2014, Hurricane Odile crashed the proceedings and stranded the team in Mexico. Mike stayed with Daz and provided aid and comfort with his Spanish-speaking skills. 


“You want to be the jacket over the puddle so they can walk through smoothly,’’ Mike said. “But there are still storms that come along that I can’t stop.’’


Said Daz: “I’ve looked up to him in a lot of different ways, when it came to growing up and learning how to be a man, and how to go about life the right way and make the best decisions you can possibly make for yourself. I’m proud of him for being the father he is. To me, he’s the best dad out there.’’ 

The Camerons celebrated a family milestone in 2020, when Daz recovered from a winter ball elbow injury, a fractured wrist in spring training and a mid-summer case of COVID-19 and pneumonia to earn his first big-league callup. After Tigers vice president of player development Dave Littlefield told him he was being summoned to the majors, Daz called his mom, dad and grandmother to share the news.  He recorded his first career hit against the White Sox, his father’s first team, on Sept. 11.

Photo courtesy of Mike Cameron

“We all talk about the lineage whenever a player comes through,’’ Littlefield said. “Just understanding of the ups and downs that are part of everybody’s career. Even though Mike was a star in a lot of cases, everybody struggles. To have that close relationship of a dad being able to explain there are a lot of common things they go through, that’s always a helpful thing.’’


In his post-career role as a teacher, Mike Cameron assesses his son’s progress through more of an analytical than an emotional lens. The box score showed that Daz went 0-for-3 in an 8-3 win over Seattle on June 10. His father took note that he played a flawless center field, recovered from an 0-2 count to draw a walk, then promptly stole a base. Pile enough small contributions on top of each other, and they can build a foundation for a successful career.

A day later, Daz went deep against the White Sox, which led to a different conversation about changes in baseball etiquette and what is and isn’t permissible between the lines. Today’s players are more inclined to emote over big moments than they were when Mike Cameron played. So the question lingers: To flip or not to flip?


“When I played, the older guys would harp on it more,’’ Mike said. “They’d say, ‘You have to do something in the game before you (celebrate).’ Obviously, the game has changed a little bit. But we had guys who were really excited like that. Jose Lima used to dance off the mound and be laughing. I had no problem with Jose Lima dancing off the mound, because as soon as I got him, I was going to celebrate on him, too.

 

“The game is a lot better with the energy of the young guys coming along and doing their thing. You can’t really be settled in old-fashioned ways when the trends continue to move forward. There was a time when the only team that wore white shoes was the Oakland Athletics.’’

On this topic, the Camerons are in harmony. Daz Cameron was 12 years old when he saw Prince Fielder’s bowling pin celebration in Milwaukee, and it made an indelible impression.

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“I’m all for it,’’ he said. “I enjoy the bat flips and going out there and just being yourself and having fun. The game needs it.’’

As a newly minted big leaguer with a generational pedigree, Daz Cameron is looking to do his part. But there's a time and a place for everything. After hitting his second homer Saturday night in Anaheim, he circled the bases old school style, just like his dad. He's still waiting to bust out the bow and arrow.