Buford up even after getting sent down

SIDELIGHT

April 18, 1994|By Tom Keegan | Tom Keegan,Sun Staff Writer

ARLINGTON, Texas -- If you must take a one-way trip to Rochester, you might as well do it with an attitude as exemplary as Damon Buford's.

Optioned to the Triple-A Red Wings before last night's game, Buford didn't trash the organization, the clubhouse, his locker, the manager or the general manager.

He didn't trash anyone or anything. Instead, he welcomed the demotion.

"It's kind of like I can't lose either way," Buford said. "If I stay here, I'm in the big leagues, and that's great. If I go down, I'm playing every day, and that's great, too."

Buford was sent down to make room for debuting left-hander Sid Fernandez, activated after a bout with shoulder bursitis.

Buford's last chance to remain on the roster disappeared when the Orioles failed to trade third baseman Leo Gomez.

Orioles general manager Roland Hemond did not specify names of players on either side, but acknowledged the club held talks through the weekend with the Minnesota Twins and other teams. The Boston Red Sox and San Diego Padres are believed to be the other teams the Orioles talked to about Gomez.

Buford played his way onto the roster with a strong Grapefruit League season. He hit .316 and scored a team-high 15 runs in 29 games.

After making the team, he appeared in one game, scoring a run as a pinch runner in the third game of the season. "I came to spring training with the goal of making the team," Buford said. "I accomplished that goal. Now, it's time to go down and set some new goals.

"I have to create an opportunity for myself, be it with the Orioles or any other big-league team. I have to go to the minors and play in order to do that."

Buford spent 4 1/2 months with the Orioles last season and batted only 79 times.

"It's definitely best for me to go down," Buford said. "If I stayed here and didn't play, that would be two straight summers of not playing, and that's not what I want to do at this stage of my career."

Orioles manager Johnny Oates broke the news to Buford before last night's game, though the outfielder said he already was making moving plans earlier in the week. He will join Rochester either tomorrow or Wednesday in Tidewater.

Oates is left without a clear-cut pinch runner on a bench that also lacks a left-handed hitter. Infielder Tim Hulett, outfielder Lonnie Smith, outfielder/infielder Jack Voigt, catcher Jeff Tackett and Gomez make up Oates' bench.

"Voigt and Lonnie will be the two guys who run if we need to score from second or go first to third," Oates said. "My first choice would be Lonnie. He can still run the bases. Jack is a guy I might need at the end of the game as a defensive replacement. The only thing is we don't have a guy on the bench to steal a base. Hopefully, we will be far enough ahead where we won't need that."

The roster move leaves the Orioles with a five-man rotation and six relievers. They have three left-handed starters and two left-handed relievers.

It also separates Orioles dugout coach Don Buford from his favorite player, his son.

"He's sad to go down, but he wants to play," Don Buford said. "He expressed that. He's got to play. You can't improve or show what you can do unless you play."

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