CHICAGO -- For the Brewers, it was Game No. 26 of 162. For Mike Cameron, it was Opening Day. Cameron's suspension expired Monday, clearing one of the Brewers' biggest offseason acquisitions to man center field and bat second in the team's series opener Tuesday night against the Cubs at Wrigley Field. His 25-game suspension, handed down by Major League Baseball last season after a second positive test for a banned stimulant, is history. The suspension's passing came as a tremendous relief to Cameron, who has long had a reputation as one of baseball's good guys and was weary of hearing his name mentioned in a negative context.
"I'm so tired of talking about it," Cameron said. "Every time I see my name [in print], it's always, 'that guy serving the 25-game suspension.' ... It's over and done with, man. I'm excited to get a chance to play baseball so you guys can write something beside my name other than that." Brewers teammates were just as excited to see Cameron playing baseball again. He batted .325 with four home runs in 17 Spring Training games, and brings Gold Glove-caliber defense (he's won three and been a runner-up three other times), an aggressive style of baserunning (he was best in baseball last season at advancing from first to third) and a potent power bat (six seasons of at least 20 home runs). Cameron participated fully in Spring Training, including a pair of exhibition games at Miller Park, then returned to Phoenix for extended camp with players nearly half his age. Cameron joined the Brewers briefly in St. Louis midway through his suspension, then played four games for Triple-A Nashville (3-for-15, one homer) to prepare for his big league opener. "It was tough knowing I was physically and mentally well, and having to shut it down," he said. "It's not an experience anyone wants to go through. But it was what it was, I had to do it. I tried to find some type of joy in it. It was really tough playing the games, mentally more than anything. But I had a lot of kids watching me so I had some responsibility. "It was a good experience that I don't want to have to go through again, ever." It was not a totally foreign experience. In 2005, when Cameron played for the Mets, he missed all of April recovering from offseason wrist surgery and didn't join the team until May 5. He went on to bat .372 that month with five home runs and 11 RBIs. "I've done it before, so it's not really that different," Cameron said. "Now I'm not hurt, [but] it's a situation I had to go through. ... Hopefully I'm ready to come in here and add something, add another little piece to the puzzle." A potentially important piece. "It's big for us because now our lineup is going to be set and all of our starters are in there," right fielder Corey Hart said. "He's also a likeable guy and you could see that guys were drawn to him in the clubhouse. It's nice to have him back." Manager Ned Yost, acknowledging that the Brewers' offense could use a boost, did not want to overstate the importance of getting Cameron back, arguing that the Brewers have a "nice team" and were not "hanging on every second until Mike Cameron gets back." "But with that said, he's a Gold Glove center fielder, he's a tremendous baserunner, he's a great offensive player," Yost said. "Anybody in his right mind would long for him to come back." Cameron met with a group of reporters on the field while the Cubs took batting practice, but would not address is his therapeutic use exemption (T.U.E) he reportedly requested from Major League Baseball. Cameron first broached that subject in a March interview with USA Today, also telling the paper he planned to undergo neurological testing to determine if there were any lingering effects from a 2005 collision with then-Mets teammate Carlos Beltran. A T.U.E. allows players to take certain nutritional supplements or medication that otherwise might trigger a positive test. "That's over with. It's in the box now," Cameron told reporters. "You guys can do whatever you want to do with it. It's in the box. Pretty much, now I get a chance to play ball." Asked again about the T.U.E., Cameron said, "The thing about that is, that's personal. It was all wrong in the first place. You guys got some back information, or some bad information was distributed, and I'm going to leave it at that."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.