Orioles manager Johnny Oates did not have to strain yesterday to remember what he was doing 20 years ago.
He was one of the Atlanta Braves in the bullpen, guarding his 10 feet of territory in case Hank Aaron hit home run No. 715 into the pen April 8, 1974.
Aaron did just that, and the ball was caught by pitcher Tom House, who stood 20 feet away from Oates. Buzz Capra stood between them.
"Sammy Davis Jr. had offered $35,000 for the ball [in advance of the home run]," Oates said. "There was no telling what people might do to get that ball.
"We were afraid they might come into the bullpen en masse. People were practicing putting rope ladders down into the bullpen before the game. Fishing poles with nets on the end were dropped in there.
"House caught the ball and ran all the way in from the bullpen without stopping so he could give it to Hank at home plate. He got an $800 Motorola TV for it."
That means House cost himself $34,200 by not selling the ball. Any teammate would have done the same, right Johnny?
"I had already gotten Sammy's phone number," Oates said with a smile.
Before the record was broken, a clubhouse attendant marked the balls and put them in a separate bag that was brought to the plate for Aaron's at-bats.
"It was exciting being on the fringe of that," Oates said of the historic moment.
Fourteen years later, Oates was managing at Triple-A Rochester when he used the All-Star break to take his family to Cooperstown, N.Y., to see the Hall of Fame.
"We were driving down to Cooperstown and Andy was about 12 at the time," Oates said of his son. "He said, 'Dad, what do you have in the Hall of Fame?' I had to stop the car to explain to him that it was the greatest players in the history of the game and I had nothing."
Later in the day, Oates realized he had misspoken. He had a pinch-hit in the game Aaron hit No. 715.
"I see the lineup card, I freeze and say it's me," Oates said. "I've got something in the Hall of Fame. Andy stood there with his mouth open, pointing at it."
But even that Fame is fleeting. Oates' name is misspelled "Oats" by the umpire on the lineup card.
Fernandez on track
Left-hander Sid Fernandez said yesterday he felt nsignificant stiffness the day after he made his first minor-league rehabilitation start.
Fernandez pitched three shutout innings, did not allow a hit, walked two and struck out four for Single-A Albany at Columbus, Ga.
His travels did not go as smoothly as his pitching.
"I was stranded in Atlanta for four hours," Ferandez said. "The plane sat on the runway for three hours."
After the mechanical difficulties could not be remedied, Fernandez boarded another plane and arrived late yesterday afternoon, instead of at 10 a.m. as scheduled.
Fernandez is scheduled to make his next start Tuesday, for either Triple-A Rochester in Scranton, Pa., or for Double-A Bowie in Frederick.
McDonald's elbow improves
Ben McDonald said he does not think it will be long for his elbow tenderness to vanish.
"My estimate is it's improving every day," said McDonald, who allowed two runs in 6 1/3 innings Wednesday. "I hope I can totally knock it out the next start or the next couple of starts."
Both the Orioles and the Rangers complained long and loud about a lack of hot water for their post-game showers, as yelps of discomfort were heard from the shower area.
"State-of-the-art ballpark my ---," grumbled Texas first baseman Will Clark. Hot water returned about 35 minutes after the game, long after most players had taken their showers.
With Mike Devereaux's home run in the fifth, and Jeffrey Hammonds' blast in the sixth, the Orioles have homered twice in each of their first three games, the first time that's happened in club history.
The Orioles last hit homers in their first three games in 1984, when they went deep in each of their first seven games of the season.