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Camp thankful to suit up for Cubs

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Camp thankful to suit up for Cubs play video for Camp thankful to suit up for Cubs

MESA, Ariz. -- Jaye Chapman was talking about how much fun he had on a golf outing with some of the Cubs' pitchers when Shawn Camp walked over and grabbed a shirt out of the young reliever's locker.

The clubbies didn't misplace Camp's shirt; he just wanted Chapman's. And Chapman, 25, would readily give the veteran reliever any thing he wanted, even the shirt he was wearing.

"I've been very fortunate," Chapman said. "Last year, Camp really helped me out a ton. He's been really cool to me."

Last year, Chapman made his Major League debut with the Cubs, and Camp was there to help him deal with the ups and downs.

Getting released by the Mariners last spring may have been the best thing to happen to Camp. And the Cubs. And Chapman. And Blake Parker.

Seattle said goodbye to Camp last March 23, and three days later, he signed with Chicago. It wasn't that the right-hander had struggled. In seven games with the Mariners, he gave up two earned runs on eight hits over 8 1/3 innings, striking out six. He had won a job. But the Mariners made a business decision, and Camp was released.

He moved his gear across the valley from Peoria, Ariz., to Mesa. He had to make friends quickly with one week remaining.

"The biggest thing when you come over is to find a throwing partner," Camp said. "[Blake] Parker was the first throwing partner I had."

Parker, 27, who missed most of last season because of problems with his right elbow, is now lockered next to Camp in the Cubs' clubhouse.

"He's a guy who can strike up a conversation with you and he'll make you feel comfortable in five minutes," Parker said. "He's one of the older guys you respect because they respect you."

That's part of the reason Cubs manager Dale Sveum named Camp as his first-half most valuable player last season. The obvious reason was the 2.80 ERA the durable right-hander compiled in 43 games. The other is how Camp provided some stability to the Cubs' bullpen. He shepherds the young relievers.

"It's something I learned," Camp said. "If I didn't have guys to help me along the way, to give me pointers; not pointers as far as what they need to do. Sometimes I feel like I say things like how I think they should do things to be more successful. It's things they need to do on and off the field.

"It could be anything from wanting to be in the locker room at a certain time for a road trip, when to leave after a game, things like that. Things that mean something other than just pitching."

Camp admits that he has the type of personality where he likes to mingle with everybody.

"This group of guys, they're so good about having good relationships in here," Camp said. "It's a great team, everybody meshes well, and nobody takes anything personal."

Which is why Camp can grab one of Chapman's shirts.

"I ride him a little bit because I want him to have success," Camp said of Chapman. "Maybe I see somebody like I was, who just needs a little boost in things I see in him and things he needs to do. He's a great kid, and he's got a strong future ahead of him. He just needs to believe in himself.

"I always tell these young guys, 'You have to have short-term memory,'" Camp said. "That's the one thing you have to have to be a reliever in the big leagues, to be a consistent reliever in the big leagues. Those are things I've learned along the way. When I was a rookie, I grabbed onto Curtis Leskanic and Matt Stairs and Jason Grimsley. Those guys were 10, 12 years into their careers. Now it's my turn to give back."

Camp has even made a point of getting the message to Japanese reliever Kyuji Fujikawa, telling the new setup man that the Cubs have a very outgoing bullpen. These guys aren't focused on their own agendas. They mesh well and put the team first.

"I'm real fortunate," Chapman said. "When I came up, [Camp] was kind of standoffish. I think that's how all the veterans are, they want to see how you are on the mound and in the clubhouse. Once he saw that I wasn't going to goof off and I was going to go about my business, he was like, 'All right, I'll take him under my wing.' It's been awesome."

"He's just a pro," Parker said.

This spring, Camp has been one of the last relievers out of the bullpen in games, which is fine. While closer Carlos Marmol pitches in the fourth, Camp waits in the 'pen. Part of the rationale is the Cubs don't want hitters to see him firsthand.

"That's part of it," Sveum said. "You don't want core players on other teams seeing Camp's slider or whatever, because he's not a power pitcher. It's different if you send a power pitcher out there, because you know what you're going to get is 94, 95 [mph] and a hard slider. Those kind of guys [like Camp], you want to hide them a little bit."

Said Camp: "I was [Sveum's] closer in Altoona, so maybe I'm getting a little taste of Altoona again."

That was back in 2001 and '03 in Double-A. Since, Camp has had stops with the Royals, Rays and the Blue Jays. All told, the Cubs are his seventh organization. He understands the business of baseball.

"[The Mariners] made a business decision last year," Camp said about being released. "The second half of that is I'm thankful, because I would've never been back here, and this is a great place to play. To be a Cub -- the tradition here -- and to have such a good team, and to play for a manager who I played for and who I have a lot of respect for."

Even if it might cost Chapman a shirt now and then.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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