It was a bittersweet day for the three Baltimore Orioles who became National Leaguers yesterday.
They were saluted by team president Larry Lucchino, general manager Roland Hemond and manager Frank Robinson for their contributions during the Orioles' building process.
Lucchino said: "It is a hard thing to say goodbye" to pitchers Pete Harnisch and Curt Schilling and outfielder Steve Finley. We don't want them to leave without a public sense of gratitude."
"They played important roles in our building," Hemond said, "and it was difficult to make the phone calls."
Robinson said: "They were very important here, and they are three players with very bright futures. We were reluctant to do this, but Houston zeroed in on these three guys."
But the kind words were tempered by the knowledge that they are joining a Houston team that is retooling after finishing 16 games out in the National League West and is starting anew with fresh faces.
"I'm kind of disappointed," said Schilling. "After the trade over here [from the Boston Red Sox], I wanted to be part of the whole building process. Now, I'm involved in the same kind of deal in Houston. Hopefully, I'll be there to see the end of that one."
Harnisch, whose name entered the talks relatively recently, said he was "a little down. Being from New York, this is a convenient place for me, and the fans are great. No question this is not an easy thing, but I'm looking ahead, not behind."
As for Finley, he was "kind of numb. It really hasn't sunk in yet. I loved playing in Baltimore, but some things you don't have control over. There, I might get a chance to play every day. But they've lost a lot of players to free agents and trades. They're starting from scratch."
The Orioles feel they could part with the three players because of the increased depth in their farm system and the late-season development of young pitchers such as Jose Mesa and Anthony Telford.
"This is an extension of the building program when you reach the stage that you're able to give up young players," said Hemond.
Mesa had a 3.15 ERA in his last six starts. Telford was at 3.47 until a bad final outing in New York. No. 1 draftee Mike Mussina is on the way. Oswald Peraza is the comeback player of the year in Venezuela this winter. And Mike Linskey and Francisco de la Rosa appear on the verge of reaching the majors, with Arthur Rhodes a prized prospect. Young pitching abounds.
"Whatever stage I'm at as a pitcher, I owe to the Orioles," said Harnisch. "And I think this team is only a player or two away. I really would have liked to have been around to see what happens."
Harnisch was the only pitcher to stay in the Orioles' starting rotation all of last season and should thrive in his new ballpark because "It has tons of room and turf. I'm a strikeout, pop-up pitcher. I don't think it'll affect my game much. The spacious outfield helps a lot."
Starting is also Schilling's aim, but the Astros broached the idea of his becoming a closer, he said. He filled in capably as a setup man when Mark Williamson was hurt late last season, once pitching 20 consecutive scoreless innings.
"I hope they want me to start," he said, "but it's not a decision I make. Just so I have a role. If I'm the stopper, that's fine, too. I just want to come in every day knowing what I'm doing."
Finley batted .278 after Aug. 11, when he began playing every day. He could wind up as the Astros' starting center fielder, his natural position, after playing all three outfield spots here.
"I grew up with St. Louis, so the National League will be something different," he said, "but I leave here with great memories, especially the whole 1989 season. If you're leaving a club, that's the way to do it."
Harnisch and Finley still will depart tomorrow on the Orioles' annual cruise, neither changing his plans after the trade.
"I've got my tickets in my hands," said Finley. "I guess now it's an Orioles-Astros cruise."