FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Any day now, perhaps any hour, Mike Flanagan will get official word that the first stage of his comeback has been a success.
The veteran lefthander, admittedly a little antsy as spring training draws to a close, could be informed as early as today that the Orioles will add him to their roster. "I haven't heard anything yet, and I guess the sands are running through the hourglass," said Flanagan.
General manager Roland Hemond has had discussions with Bob Teaf, Flanagan's agent, and said yesterday the decision will be made "real soon." It will come as no surprise because it has been a foregone conclusion for at least the last 10 days that Flanagan would make the club.
But when the Orioles make it official, it will be the best of all possible homecomings for the fourth leading winner in club history.
He never really left, even after his trade to Toronto late in the 1987 season, maintaining his permanent residence in Baltimore County. And he dreamed of someday walking onto the field at Memorial Stadium to relive a few memories.
"If I make the club, it will be an honor to be there for the last year [at Memorial Stadium]," said Flanagan. "I saw the last years of a lot of good players in that park, and my best years were on that field.
"So many things flow back through my mind when I think about playing there. I've always had a vision of coming back, maybe in an old-timers game, something like that, and being able to walk out onto the field and having those feelings again. I'm sure the new park is going to be beautiful and a great place to play, but it could never replace the memories I have [of Memorial Stadium]."
Instead of an old-timers game, Flanagan is on the verge of coming back merely as an old-timer -- at 39 a young old-timer, if you will.
He sits in the clubhouse now, looks around and sees only a few familiar faces. "I don't feel old," said Flanagan. "I really don't -- it's just that they seem so young to me."
While the faces have changed, there is still a great deal of similarity for Flanagan, even though it's been four years since he was in spring training with the Orioles.
"The difference in the club really depends on how you look at it," said Flanagan, a non-participant in the Orioles' 7-6 exhibition loss to Montreal yesterday.
"If you're talking about the players, there's quite a bit of difference. But in other ways there's no difference at all.
"Before I got traded there were a lot of guys finishing up. Now, you look out on the field and you can picture guys being here for the next 10 years. It's like the start of another era.
"As far as the philosophy of the club, how they go about doing things -- it's exactly the same," said Flanagan. "And that is exactly what I expected."
This spring it didn't take him long to convince doubters that last ++ year, when he was released by Toronto after pitching only two innings in spring training and 20 during the season, was not a valid test. "He's throwing the same as he did five years ago," Detroit manager Sparky Anderson said after Flanagan's third appearance of the spring.
That, however, doesn't mean Flanagan's role will be the same as five years ago, and he understands that. Manager Frank Robinson said yesterday that he isn't considering Flanagan as a starter -- at least in the early part of the season.
"Right now, assuming he makes the club, I think he can help us most by coming out of the bullpen," said Robinson. "But that's not to say that he might not eventually get a chance to start."
Flanagan does not foresee any trouble making the adjustment. And as far as re-acclimating himself to a "new" team, Flanagan already knows that isn't a problem. What he's found out after being away more than three years is that the more the Orioles change, the more they remain the same.
Roy Smith is the latest to be victimized by Florida's wind currents. The righthander gave up a pair of first-inning home runs to Larry Walker and Andres Galarraga, both aided by a prevailing rightfield breeze, as Montreal scored six runs in the first two innings to beat the Orioles 7-6 yesterday.
In the last three innings he worked, Smith allowed only one hit. But, coming on top of his most recent outing last Friday night, when he walked three in two-thirds of an inning, Smith didn't enhance his chances of making the Orioles' roster.
Leo Gomez (3-for-4) and Mike Devereaux (2-for-3) each had a two-run homer for the Orioles, both hit into the teeth of the blustery winds.
Jeff Ballard gets his last tuneup for Opening Day tomorrow night, when the Orioles face the Expos again. Bob Milacki was scheduled to face the Atlanta Braves this afternoon.
The Orioles will depart for Baltimore immediately after Thursday night's game against the Yankees (ESPN). The club will work out at Memorial Stadium at 11 a.m. Friday and play the Red Sox in the final exhibition games in Washington's RFK Stadium Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
Cal Ripken is 23-42 (.548) in his last 15 games. With 26 hits overall, he is six shy of Don Baylor's exhibition record (32). Keeping it in the family, Bill Ripken has six hits and two walks in his last 11 plate appearances.
Craig Worthington has hit in nine of his last 10 games (14-for-36, .389). Joe Orsulak is 18-for-48 (.375) in his last 15 games. Dwight Evans had a seven-game hitting streak snapped yesterday.