First-day heroics by Horn are stuff of October dreams


March 08, 1991|By MIKE LITTWIN

SARASOTA, Fla. -- It was only the first game -- heck, it was only the first exhibition game -- and I made myself promise not to get carried away under any circumstances. And then Sam Horn hits the mother of all home runs in the very first inning, and I can't help myself.

If this team doesn't win the div. . . .

OK, I'll stop before I say something stupid.

But, as Vin Scully would be the first to point out, it was a glorious day for baseball. The sun was shining, it was 82 degrees, Ben McDonald was on the mound, and the Orioles were on their way to an 8-0 slam-dancing of the White Sox. And you're supposed to stay calm?

Look, if you don't fall in love with a team on a day like this, you've got the heart of Gordon Gecko. And I know about Sam Horn and openers, too. He's Babe Ruth (or is it Glenn Davis?) for a day. Remember last April in Kansas City when he hit the two three-run shots on Opening Day and poets were falling out of coffee houses to immortalize the guy? And still, not too many months later, he was in Rochester, a poet-free port.

When he hit his Opening Day, three-run homer special yesterday, your jaw dropped. He launched it well over the right-field fence into a 20-mph wind.

"I'd like to see that ball," said teammate Randy Milligan. "I know it's flat on one side. It's a good thing there are no stands out there in right field or we would have had to call in the paramedics."

Horn allowed as how he got all of it and said he wished the wind had been blowing out just to see how far the ball might have traveled.

"If you'd put the Discovery on top of it," said manager Frank Robinson, to offer his view of the home run, "the ball would have carried it into orbit."

Yes, it was a shot. But Sam Horn, who is known for that kind of pyrotechnics, is also a player guaranteed to break your heart. Maybe this time it's different.

He's in shape, which is to say not only is he not fat, he's even got muscles in unlikely places. He said he aerobicized and racquetballed and dieted his way (16 pounds worth) into shape. And if Milligan can play left field and Dewey Evans can play right field, then Sam Horn can play DH against right-handed pitchers and hit, gosh, maybe 25 homers.

Is that a pipe dream? It's sure the time of year for it.

"It's what I'd like to see happen,"said Robinson, who had a little sit-down with Horn at the end of last season and suggested that if he wanted to make something more of himself he had to make something less of himself.

"No fried foods, no barbecued ribs, no Mexican food, none of the stuff I grew up on," said Horn, who conceded that he was passing up much of the reason for living. "If I have a good year, maybe I'll take three weeks off at the end of the season and go after it."

For now, he is enjoying looking the way he looks and looking at how people look at him.

"That's the reason I did it," he said.

He did it to look good as much as to feel good. He looks marvelous at 234 pounds. And when told the Orioles were looking for power from the left side, he said simply this: "I got it."

He's got it. But does he have the rest of the package? Can he hit enough to keep himself in the lineup so the home runs will come?

"I'd like to play every day," Horn said. "I want to be looked at as someone who can provide power from the left side. . . . I would like to be the DH against right-handed pitching and not worry about fielding or do anything but hit."

It has long been Horn's contention that he has never had the chance to play every day in order to prove what he could do. It could be pointed out that he has never exactly earned that opportunity when in the big leagues. In the minors, however, he has made himself a legend.

Imagine, though, a minor-league legend turned into a power-hitting DH batting in the sixth or seventh spot in the Orioles' lineup. That kind of lineup could be the type to take a team almost as far as Horn can take a baseball.

Robinson isn't convinced of anything yet, but he is pleased with Horn's determination to report to camp in shape.

"He made an effort," Robinson said. "That matters. It shows that he understood what we discussed last year. I didn't make any threats, but I made clear what I wanted."

One game into the exhibition season, Robinson got everything he wanted. McDonald, Jose Mesa, Dave Johnson and Kevin Hickey stopped the White Sox on four hits, and the Orioles jumped all over Chicago pitching. Horn threw in a single (he was cut down trying to stretch it to a double) and a walk to go with

the home run.

But all anyone wanted to talk about yesterday was Horn's monster mash to right. It was Opening Day of the spring season. The heartbreak part, if it comes, can wait.

"It was unbelievable," said teammate Brady Anderson of the homer. "I didn't shake Sam's hand after the homer because I was afraid I'd get hurt."

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