This spring, no place was home for Orioles

BASEBALL

April 07, 1991|By PETER SCHMUCK

It was fun while it lasted, but the Baltimore Orioles' 15-city 33-game road trip ends today. They return to Memorial Stadium tomorrow to settle in for a relaxing two-game homestand before hitting the road again. It is hoped the club will not let a little case of Greyhound-lag stand in the way of a fast start.

OK, maybe it wasn't as bad as all that. The club did play nine home games this spring, even if each of them was at somebody else's home. And then there were all those Continental Trailways frequent traveler points. I'm going to Hawaii as soon as they finish the bridge.

Nobody said it was going to be perfect. The Orioles are trying to find a more permanent temporary setting (yes, you read that right) for next year, but they will not have an all-purpose facility all their own until at least 1993.

There was nothing wrong with the club's pre-exhibition workout site at Twin Lakes Park in Sarasota, though there were moments early in the spring when you had to wonder if it wasn't really Twin Peaks Park. Jim Palmer mysteriously appeared in camp after nearly seven years in retirement. Mike Flanagan came back, too, and eventually proved that mid-life doesn't have to be a crisis. But Larry Sheets returned after an unhappy parting in 1989 and found out the prodigal son thing doesn't work 100 percent of the time.

Nevertheless, it was a spring of unbridled optimism and unparalleled offensive production, as the newly revamped lineup dwarfed the club record for runs scored during the exhibition season and served notice that the Orioles are serious about contending in 1991. If only opposing pitchers serve it up the same way during the regular season, it will be a very interesting season, indeed.

But there will be plenty of time to look ahead, so let's take one last trip down Alligator Alley. The bus is right outside:

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The pitcher of Dorian Gray: Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer kept the Orioles in the national spotlight for the first three weeks of training camp, capturing the imagination of aging baby boomers everywhere with his attempt to return to the major leagues after nearly seven years in retirement. The club was amused at first, but Palmer had enough left in his 45-year-old arm to keep everyone interested until he made his 1991 exhibition debut against the Boston Red Sox. He was up to his eyebrows in line drives for two innings before giving up his unlikely comeback attempt because of a hamstring injury. Why did he come back in the first place? Was the Jockey underwear man suffering from a chronic case of underexposure? What difference does it make? It brought the TV crews to Twin Lakes Park every time he picked up the ball, which had to make the Orioles public relations department happy.

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Middle-age crazy: Palmer wasn't the only old-timer to show up in camp with a non-roster invitation. Left-hander Mike Flanagan, six years younger and less than one year removed from his last major-league appearance, was invited to spring training for a more likely comeback attempt. He turned out to be one of the club's most effective pitchers and won a spot in the Orioles bullpen. Catcher Ernie Whitt, 38, also made a good account of himself after a horrendous 1990 season with the Atlanta Braves. But things didn't go quite so well for 37-year-old Dan Boone, who was released after making just one relief appearance against major-league competition.

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Have bat, will travel: It had become apparent by the end of the season that the Orioles needed some offensive help in a hurry, so the club signed 39-year-old free agent Dwight Evans and traded a significant chunk of its future for power-hitting first baseman Glenn Davis. Evans was a gamble, but a calculated one. A bone spur in his lower back restricted him to designated hitter duty in 1990, but he came to Baltimore with the go-ahead to return to the outfield. He played only a handful of games there this spring, but that was enough to re-establish him as a multidimensional player, at least to some extent. Davis is a proven commodity, but he might not be around for long if the Orioles don't take the AL East by storm this year. The price tag for a contract extension could reach $20 million for five years, more money than Orioles management thinks a human being should be allowed to earn.

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If you build it, we will come: The Orioles thought they would be in new training camp by 1992, but USF&G withdrew its commitment to provide the land for the Naples, Fla., facility. When asked why the the club would not buy the land itself, a team official pointed out that the Orioles are not in the real estate development business. So how come the Orioles were so disgruntled when USF&G decided not to get into the baseball business? You figure it out. Fortunately for everyone who loves an occasional home game, Florida Rock (a construction materials firm, not an FM radio station)came to the rescue. The Orioles apparently will have a new spring home in 1993, but will have to find a temporary site for next year.

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