FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- It still needs a face lift to meet major-league standards, but reaction to Joe Robbie Stadium as a baseball facility is generally favorable.
Unlike the last three years, when it was little more than makeshift playpen with a large capacity, the Miami Dolphins' home field has been transformed into a baseball configuration. The Orioles' two games with the Yankees over the weekend were preceded by visit from the National League Expansion Committee.
Wayne Huizenga owns 50 percent of Joe Robbie Stadium and is spearheading the effort to bring major-league baseball to South Florida. He brought retired Orioles groundskeeper Pat Santarone in to supervise the preparation. "He didn't spare the horsepower," Santarone said of Huizenga. "He did it first class."
Shortly after arriving a week ago today, Santarone discovered they didn't have suitable clay for the pitching and home plate areas on the field and in the bullpens. Ten thousand pounds were shipped in from New Jersey and the construction wasn't finished until Saturday morning, a few hours before the first game.
The two games at Joe Robbie Stadium, fueled by South Florida's anxiety to impress major-league baseball, drew 125,013 -- 67,654 Saturday night and 57,359 yesterday. Even though many ticket holders were disguised as empty chairs for both games, the numbers were overwhelming.
For the Yankees and Orioles the two dates were a bonanza. The two-day total was more than either team's total exhibition attendance last spring -- 14 dates for the Yankees, 15 for the Orioles.
There was one very visible drawback to Joe Robbie Stadium as a baseball park. When a heavy downpour hit after yesterday's game, the upper deck drainage system dumped water on the lower deck. The field, which will be returned to its football mode starting today, was left uncovered and the area around home plate and the pitching mound quickly became a sea of clay.
* MELVIN TRIVIA QUIZ: Orioles catcher Bob Melvin hit the first home run in the redesigned version of Joe Robbie Stadium. Before, the stadium had a temporary screen in leftfield that started only 272 feet from home plate and turned games into home run hitting contests. Now the leftfield fence is 335 feet away.
"I'm the answer to a couple of other trivia questions," said Melvin. His other entries are more significant. "I hit a home run off Orel Hershiser for the last run before his [record] scoreless inning streak [in 1988]. And I caught Steve Carlton's 4,000th strikeout."
* UPCOMING PROBABLES: Roy Smith was the scheduled substitute for Jeff Ballard in today's game against the Expos in West Palm Beach. Ballard threw on the sidelines yesterday and has been moved back to Wednesday night's game against Montreal so he'll be on schedule for the season opener a week from today.
Bob Milacki will face Atlanta tomorrow.
Whoever pitches Thursday night against the Yankees in the Orioles' Florida finale will be in position to pitch the second game of the season. Jose Mesa and Mike Flanagan are possibilities.
* A SURVIVAL TEST: It wasn't a very pretty 13-hitter, but outside of Mike Cuellar who ever had one? Dave Johnson gave up that many hits, plus seven runs, in the seven innings he worked while absorbing the 9-2 loss to the Yankees yesterday.
The good news is he actually had five effective innings. "For a while it looked like I wasn't going to last long enough to get my work in -- or that I might get it all in the [five-run] first inning," said Johnson.
* LAST-INNING BLUES: Gregg Olson doesn't give up many home runs -- and doesn't like it when he does. So after Mel Hall hit a two-run shot off the Orioles' relief ace, Olson wasn't too happy.
"Brutal. I was lousy," said Olson, who struck out two but gave up three hits.
"He just made a lousy pitch that's all," said pitching coach Al Jackson. "I thought he threw OK."
So, whose opinion do you take?
"I'm the one who has to live with it," said Olson, who wasn't in a mood to be pacified.
It must be time to start playing for keeps.
* THIS 'N THAT: Cal Ripken, who had a double and a home run Saturday night, went hitless (0-for-2) yesterday for only the second time in the last 15 games. The All-Star shortstop is having one of his best springs, hitting .448 (26-for-58), with a pair of home runs and 12 runs batted in. The highest average ever recorded by an Oriole in spring training was .462 by Don Lenhardt in the club's very first year, 1954.
If Ballard wins his next start he would tie an Orioles exhibition mark with a 4-0 record. Jim Palmer (1969 and 1975), Dave McNally (1969 and 1973) and Mike Cuellar (1971) did it previously.