SARASOTA, Fla. -- The practice fields are green and manicured, waiting for the Orioles to take their first steps of 1995. New equipment glistens in the workout room. There also are new uniforms, new batting machines, even a brand-new manager and coaching staff.
There's just one problem. Twin Lakes Park is all dressed up for a team that has no place to go.
The minor-league Orioles will report to major-league camp beginning today. Pitchers and catchers will begin workouts tomorrow. The full squad -- such as it is -- will be in camp next week. No one really knows what comes after that.
Orioles owner Peter Angelos has made it clear that he will not allow his team to take part in replacement games, so new manager Phil Regan and his staff cannot plan beyond the next two weeks. Come March 2 and the start of the Grapefruit League exhibition season, club officials just hope against hope that baseball's bitter labor dispute has been settled.
"We'll just prepare and plan to be in shape for this season or whatever develops," general manager Roland Hemond said. "No decisions have been made."
The team will have to decide whether to field an exhibition team of minor-league players to keep its Florida schedule, or simply operate as a minor-league camp in March and accept the consequences. Club sources say that Angelos not only will refuse to field a replacement team, he also will refuse to allow his minor-leaguers to play in games against other replacement players.
"We haven't determined that," Regan said. "As of now, we don't have replacement players, so I guess we're not going to play."
Instead, the Orioles are going to take advantage of a rare opportunity to evaluate their minor-league talent. Regan, who came over from the Cleveland Indians organization last fall, would have had to rely on short glimpses or scouting reports to size up many of the minor-leaguers in camp if the six-month strike had not kept everyone on the 40-man roster at home.
Regan already has begun instilling his philosophy. Managers and coaches from every level of the minor-league system are in the midst of a three-day organizational summit that concludes today. The 76 minor-leaguers who begin arriving today also will get a crash course in the Regan way to play baseball, as well as a lot of attention from the major-league staff.
Player development director Syd Thrift, who is not afraid to sneak a cliche into any conversation, said that the Orioles are just trying to make the best of a bad situation.
"We're taking lemons and we're trying to make lemonade," he said.
In a normal year, the new manager would have to concentrate on putting together his major-league roster and hope to get a sufficient look at the players who might come up to help later in the year. That would put him at a competitive disadvantage, because some of his counterparts have spent years evaluating their organizational talent.
The Orioles' non-replacement philosophy could help Regan and the staff catch up quicker, since other teams will have to spend significant time and attention on players who probably won't be around after the labor dispute is over.
"It's something [we] can take advantage of," assistant general manager Frank Robinson said. "We'll have the major-league staff and the minor-league staff with the players, so we'll get a chance to see them. These are guys not on the 40-man roster who wouldn't normally get a chance to be seen."
Of course, everyone would rather be watching Mike Mussina and Ben McDonald throw on the side, but that isn't an option. The Orioles will fill major-league camp with 45 Double-A and Triple-A players, and run another 31 prospects through early instructional camp.
"It's something of a Catch-22," Robinson said. "I know the anxiety that a manager feels when he is getting ready to manage for the first time. You're looking forward to spring training and you want to put your philosophy into place. Then you get here and you can't do it. But at least you're not sitting home. Phil will be able to use this. Under the circumstances, it's a tremendous opportunity."
Thrift and Hemond also look at it from the other angle. The young players will benefit, because they will get more attention, more instruction and -- as a result -- have more to offer if they are needed at the major-league level.
"It's a great opportunity for them," Thrift said. "This will enhance their chances of getting to the major leagues."
Many of the Double-A and Triple-A players will be in major-league camp for the first time. They know it would not be so easy if the major-leaguers were on their way, but they still can learn from the experience. Club officials plan to treat them as if they were the real thing, even if they probably won't get the chance to play against major-league competition this spring.
"It's going to be as normal as we can make it," Robinson said.