Lo. Smith takes waiting game in stride

SIDELIGHT

April 22, 1994|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,Contributing Writer

Lonnie Smith doesn't mind the waiting game because he is simply happy still to be in the game.

So the fact that he was the last Oriole to appear in a game this season -- and didn't make his first start until last night -- was hardly upsetting to the Orioles' backup designated hitter.

"I know that I am not going to play much because of all the talent on this team," said Smith, 38, who became the second to last major-leaguer (to Texas' Junior Ortiz) on an Opening Day roster to appear in a game this season when he pinch-ran Sunday. "[Orioles manager] Johnny [Oates] has always been honest with me. I am here to give Harold [Baines] a rest and pinch-run and hit here and there. My job is to be prepared."

For Smith, acquired from Pittsburgh last September, any playing time is better than the worst-case scenario this spring.

After 14 major-league seasons, Smith planned to retire if he did not make the Orioles in spring training. But Smith never worried and joined Mark Williamson as the only nonroster players to make the club.

"I either make the team or that was it," said Smith, a career .269 hitter. "I never really thought of it through spring. I really hit better before I knew I made the team."

Smith said he actually felt more pressure off the field than on it this spring.

"It was really stressful with my wife [Dorothy]," he said. "It was a question-and-answer session every day on whether I made the team or not. We didn't know if she should pack or stay put."

Now Smith must wait for his chance against selected left-handers.

Including last night's game against Brian Anderson, the Orioles will face left-handed starters in three of the next four games after only seeing one in their first 13 games. However, Smith, who has a .333 career average against California and a .337 one vs. coming opponent Seattle, does not think that indicates more playing time for him.

"I'll just wait and see," Smith said. "I'll give Harold a rest when he needs it, but he doesn't hit that bad against that many left-handers. He might hit some better than me."

Smith certainly didn't waste any time getting his swings last night. In his first two at-bats, he hit the first pitch from Anderson -- flying out to left and singling to right. In his third at-bat, he watched two pitches before hitting a checked-swing double.

But he has had to be more patient much of his career.

Smith was an everyday player from 1980-87, but spent a majority of the next two seasons in the minor leagues. He revived his career in Atlanta, averaging more than 130 games from 1989 to '91.

In 1992, Smith's at-bats got cut in half and he signed with Pittsburgh the next season in search of more time. But a 3-for-33 start (.091) limited his role and his trade value.

Smith was forced to be patient once again.

Hitting .302 in 18 of his final 21 starts with the Pirates, Smith enticed the Orioles. He only hit .208 in the final weeks of the season for the Orioles, but two of his five hits were home runs.

"I think I could have played better for the Orioles last year," said Smith, who has played in the World Series with four different teams. "I feel I can help this team and plan to show that when I get the chance."

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