Bench-weary Lo. Smith regrets O's signing, eyes Pirates return

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

August 03, 1994|By Tom Keegan | Tom Keegan,Sun Staff Writer

MINNEAPOLIS -- Lonnie Smith enjoys playing baseball much more than he enjoys watching others play the game.

For that reason, Smith regrets signing with the Orioles as a nonroster player over the winter.

Smith said he had opportunities to go to spring training with the DTC Pittsburgh Pirates, New York Yankees and Houston Astros, but chose to go to camp with the Orioles.

"My agent figured it would be best coming here; since then we agreed it was the wrong decision," Smith said. "I think the best place would have been Pittsburgh because Jim Leyland believes in using all of his players. And Leyland had enough confidence in me to play me in the outfield."

Smith, 38, said he would like to continue his career next season, provided he can find a team that would use him.

"Personally, I'd like to play again next year, but I mean play," said Smith, who was signed to a one-year, $750,000 contract in February. "I would like to play like I was getting played in Pittsburgh."

Smith has played in 31 games and is hitting .231 in 52 at-bats.

Smith originally was going to be used as a designated hitter against left-handed pitching, but that role now belongs to Chris Sabo.

"I just try to get through every day," said Smith, acquired from the Pirates last September for minor-leaguers Stanton Cameron and Terry Farrar. "Everything is fine until I get to the ballpark."

Then he sees the lineup card.

It's conceivable the strike could end Smith's career.

"That wouldn't be much different from the way my season is going anyway," Smith said.

Tackett stars

Reserve catcher Jeff Tackett went 2-for-4 with a two-run double and a bases-empty home run, yet those numbers had nothing to do with the praise his manager gave him afterward.

"He called an exceptionally good game," manager Johnny Oates said. "He did a great job behind the plate."

Tackett is hitting .226 with three doubles, a triple, two home runs and nine RBIs in 53 at-bats, playing behind everyday catcher Chris Hoiles.

"My goal is to become an everyday catcher," Tackett said. "I don't want to be a backup my whole career. I want to be a starter, but when you have a guy like Chris and all he's done, it's a little hard to jump over him."

Tackett, who has seven career homers in 327 at-bats, has one of baseball's quickest home run trots.

"There's no feeling like hitting a home run," Tackett said. "For that instant, everybody is watching you running around the bases. That's an exciting experience. I don't hit many, so when I hit one, I run around the bases pretty fast and get right back in the dugout so they can't figure out who hit it. I don't want to show anybody up."

Game time changes

The starting times for two of the Orioles games in New York next week have been changed. Next Tuesday's game has been changed from a 7:05 start to an 8:05 start because of a ceremony honoring broadcaster Phil Rizzuto's induction into the Hall of Fame.

The Wednesday game will begin at 7:35 instead of 7:05 because it is ESPN's backup game. Monday's game remains scheduled for 7:05.

Don't mark that calendar

The most recent tentative schedule on the desks of American League officials shows Cal Ripken, if he remains healthy and the Orioles play 162 games this season and have no early-season rainouts next season, will tie Lou Gehrig's record against the Yankees on June 20 and break it June 21 against the team that wears the same pinstripes Gehrig wore.

The most recent schedule the Orioles have seen, however, has the games being played against the Boston Red Sox.

"They work on it right up to November and there will be changes made," Orioles assistant general manager Frank Robinson said.

The league is holding back on finalizing the Orioles' schedule until knowing whether there will be a strike.

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