Hoiles emerges from '91 blur to notch first RBI in new park

April 07, 1992|By Doug Brown | Doug Brown,Staff Writer

When Chris Hoiles commanded his mind to go back to last year's Opening Day, it almost came up empty.

Did he spend the game in the bullpen or on the bench? Who pitched? Who won? The opponent?

"You're asking too much of my brain," the Orioles catcher said. "It was my first Opening Day and I was part of the team, but I don't remember much else except that I spent the game on the bench, I think.

"This meant much more."

Small wonder. All Hoiles did was drive in the first run at Oriole Park at Camden Yards and catch Rick Sutcliffe's five-hit shutout as the Orioles christened their new home yesterday with a 2-0 conquest of the Cleveland Indians.

"I was part of this one," Hoiles said. "It's different when you're with the starting nine. Last year was tough because of my role, never knowing when I'd play.

"It helps to know they're counting on me to be in there six or seven days a week," he said.

Hoiles shared the job with Bob Melvin last season, starting only 91 games.

This year he has been the acknowledged No. 1 catcher since the start of spring training.

Hoiles' first assignment yesterday was to catch President Bush, who threw the ceremonial first pitch. Alas, Bush's left arm wasn't up to a strong throw and Hoiles had to scoop the ball out of the dirt.

"When the president went through the clubhouse shaking hands, he said people ridiculed him for throwing a ball in the dirt last year," Hoiles said.

"Then he went out and did it again. OK, so I've got the first block in the new stadium, too."

Hoiles drove in the first run with a ground-rule double to left-center field in the fifth inning, scoring Sam Horn. Fastball away, Hoiles said. Just looking for a pitch to drive somewhere.

"I didn't watch the ball, so I didn't realize it had bounced over the fence for a ground-rule double until I was on second base," Hoiles said.

"Now people can say, and I can say, I got the first RBI in the new park. That'll stay with me forever -- unless they come along and build another new stadium here someday."

Hoiles couldn't remember when he last caught a shutout. Maybe it was the Orioles' four-man no-hitter last July in Oakland, when he singled home the winning run in the fifth inning.

"You're asking too much of my brain again," he said.

What impressed manager John Oates was that Sutcliffe, who has 13 years in the majors, seldom shook off the signals of the relatively inexperienced Hoiles.

"Rick has been known to get a sore neck from shaking off his catcher," Oates said. "I saw him in the dugout congratulating Chris on his calls."

While citing Hoiles' improvement during the past year, and his work ethic, bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks has a single concern -- the catcher's stamina.

Because he played a variety of positions in the minors, Hoiles didn't have the benefit of catching month after month.

But that, Hendricks conceded, is a concern that can be put off until another day.

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