Gallant Girder

August 26, 1994|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,Sun Staff Writer

Bowie -- Somebody had a sense of humor, posting that block-letter sign "HOME" over the door to the trailer that houses the makeshift Bowie Baysox clubhouse. Step inside and the first thing you see is a row of urinals and the indoor-outdoor carpeting the color of dry mustard. Welcome to the minors, big shot. Welcome HOME.

Not that Jack Voigt spent so much time in the majors that this is such a shock. Not that he ever got so secure. He's a utility man, a species of player for whom security is fleeting, whose employment depends upon knowing details of the game, and upon the capacity to get up and move.

Move from right field to first base, first base to third base. Single-A to Double-A, back to Single-A, to Triple-A, to the majors, back to Triple-A, back to the majors.

So Voigt's career has gone since he joined the Orioles organization in 1987.

Now back to Double-A. Welcome HOME.

Voigt, 28, showed up for work in Bowie on Monday, July 25 to begin a three-game series against the Canton-Akron Indians. Three days before, Voigt the Oriole was summoned to a hotel room in Oakland, Calif., by manager Johnny Oates, who has always been a big Voigt fan. When they shut the door, there were three men in the room: Voigt, Oates and assistant general manager Frank Robinson.

"Johnny and Frank were honest with me. They were very positive," says Voigt. "It wasn't a performance thing, it was a numbers thing. The team wanted to go with a veteran on the bench."

That's Lonnie Smith, the 38-year-old who had just come off the disabled list, who this season has hit .203 in 35 games with 12 hits and two RBIs. After 59 games, Voigt hit .241 with 34 hits, 20 RBI.

Voigt won't comment on speculation that the more significant numbers were probably Smith's $750,000 salary and Voigt's $150,000 salary, or the question of whose salary the Orioles would prefer to see strikebound.

Voigt would rather not talk about that. He's looking at the bright side. He is not, for example, dwelling on the accommodations.

There's nothing wrong with Prince George's County Stadium that a few months of work won't cure. The team owners needed a mild winter to complete the ballpark by April, but they got a siege of ice and bitter cold. With work still to be done on the upper deck and sky boxes, concession stands, bathrooms, press box and team clubhouses, the park opened in mid-June.

"Yeah, yeah," says Voigt, when asked if he misses the first-class surroundings of Camden Yards. "In a way. But those are the things, those are the amenities of being a major-league ballplayer."

It's 45 minutes before game time on a perfect Wednesday evening. On a game night at Camden Yards, Voigt would be lounging in the air-conditioned clubhouse, where a team of attendants waits on the players hand and foot, where the refrigerator is always stocked with beer and soft drinks and the post-game buffet is always fresh and never late.

"You didn't have to rush out to make sure you got to McDonald's or Subway before midnight, before they close," says Voigt.

He's sitting outside the trailer marked HOME on the tailgate of a pickup truck parked on packed red dirt, near where the permanent clubhouse is under construction. A few yards away, dust clouds chase fans' cars into the parking lot. A few thousand fans receive plastic hard hats as souvenirs tonight, a fitting gift considering that they are walking into a construction site.

To enter the park, fans walk beneath a skeleton of steel girders and concrete blocks and pass a line of portable toilets en route to their seats. The team "clubhouse," with the metal high school style lockers and paneled walls, reminds Voigt of the American Legion park he played in at Frederick in 1989 while the stadium there was being built.

At least he's playing

It's not the bigs. But in the bigs, they're not playing. And if they were, Voigt probably wouldn't be in the starting lineup. He is tonight, as he has been in all but one game the Baysox have played since he arrived. He'd rather talk about that, he says.

"I'm still here, I've got a uniform on and I'm making money doing something I like to do," says Voigt.

His annual salary in the minors is $95,000, more than he'd be making on strike. As a member of the Major League Baseball Players Association, he had the option of going on strike Aug. 12, but says he never gave it serious thought.

"Why am I going to do that? I like playing the game," says Voigt, who is hitting .315 in 29 games for Bowie with four homers and 24 RBIs.

He could have gone to the Triple-A club in Rochester, but chose Double-A Bowie. It's closer to his home in Columbia, and it's easier for the club to work him into the regular lineup here.

The Baysox seem to like having him around.

"It has an impact" on the team, says manager Pete Mackanin, who likes the example Voigt sets for the younger players.

"Jack's made it on the basis of his versatility and know-how," says Mackanin. He shows his teammates that "there's more to playing this game than just hitting the ball far."

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