Tale of 2 rookies: great expectations McDonald knows Hammonds' position

June 27, 1993|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Staff Writer

From the Orioles dugout, pitcher Ben McDonald watched Jeffrey Hammonds' splashy big-league premiere Friday night with a sense of admiration and apprehension.

McDonald's admiration was for Hammonds' perfect night, which included an RBI single and an intentional walk in his third major-league plate appearance in the Orioles' 7-6 win in 10 innings over the New York Yankees.

But his apprehension came from the understanding that Hammonds, as the highly touted prospect, had raised expectations with his evening of perfection.

"He's going to have to deal with it [the expectations]. I'm not going to say it's fair," McDonald said. "What he did [Friday] night is just going to add to it. But, thank God, he did it."

More than anyone else in the Orioles clubhouse, McDonald has a feel for what is swirling around Hammonds, who got his first major-league start last night against the Yankees, in left field.

Like Hammonds, an outfield star at Stanford, McDonald was a college phenom at Louisiana State, with a colorful personality and a near-legendary reputation.

He was selected first overall in the 1989 amateur draft and was expected to come to Baltimore immediately and save the franchise.

And when McDonald joined the parent club, he boosted the expectations exponentially by beating the Chicago White Sox, 2-0, in his first major-league start, pitching a four-hitter and throwing 85 pitches.

"I was amazed at the first one, and on top of that, it was an 85-pitch game," McDonald said. "I knew it wasn't this easy. I had real good stuff that night, and it was the first time they faced me. It was exciting. It really got me off to a good start, and it got my confidence up."

In that regard, McDonald said Hammonds' two-hit debut could have the same effect.

"That may really help him, the fact that he went 2-for-2 and they walk a guy who's got two at-bats in the big leagues to face a .320 hitter [David Segui]," McDonald said. "I'm sitting on the bench thinking, 'I cannot believe this.' "

In fairness to the legend that may become Hammonds, the Yankees walked him in the ninth to load the bases with one out, setting up a force at any base.

Still, the walk and all the other niceties didn't escape Hammonds, who didn't arrive at Oriole Park from Rochester, N.Y., until the bottom of the first inning.

"It was a dream come true, with all the attention I've received in Baltimore," Hammonds said. "It didn't hurt that I had a great day. If I would have went 0-for-2 with two strikeouts on six pitches, I still would have come home smiling and happy to be there. But because of the fact that I got a couple of hits and we won the game and came back the way we did, it was great."

Hammonds is aware that the eyes of Orioles fans will be trained on him and that they will come to expect him to be super nearly all the time.

"The only thing that I can handle is what I do on the field," he said. "I can't tell people what to think. It's great that they have all those expectations, and it's inevitable because the hype I got out of spring training. But I can't get absorbed in that.

"No one has ever mastered this game, and I'm sure I'm not going to be the one that will break that tradition. I'm here just to play the game. If I can play it well, I'll be happy. I'm just happy to be

here."

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