Van Slyke finds his logical answer is full of questions

April 20, 1995|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,Sun Staff Writer

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The one thing that outfielder Andy Van Slyke hates, he said yesterday after joining the Orioles, is what he referred to as the Voice of Reason, which has been telling him to get on with his life for about two weeks.

If you want to play baseball, the Voice of Reason told Van Slyke, then sign a contract with someone and play, regardless of the amount. If you don't want to play, then find something else to do. The Voice offered such sound logic that the frustrated Van Slyke couldn't argue.

Actually, Van Slyke said, he doesn't really hate the Voice of Reason. In fact, he said, he loves the Voice of Reason very much -- his wife, Lauri. "She has incredible wisdom and she doesn't get emotionally involved," Van Slyke said.

As he admitted, it is time to get on with his life. Time to go about the business of rehabilitating an All-Star career at the age of 34. That's why he's here participating in a so-called tryout with the Orioles; so-called, because the addition of the former All-Star to the Orioles' roster seems to be a foregone conclusion.

Once the requisite amount of time passes for everybody to feel comfortable, he's expected to sign a one-year, $700,000 contract.

Starting in center field in the Orioles' 6-3 exhibition victory over the Minnesota Twins yesterday, he singled sharply in his first at-bat and grounded out in his second before being replaced. ("I thought," Van Slyke said jokingly, "that I had the team made until I made that out.")

Manager Phil Regan repeated before the game that he needed to see whether Van Slyke is healthy. After the game, Regan said, "He looked healthy to me."

Van Slyke, who hit .246 for the Pittsburgh Pirates in a disappointing '94 season, acknowledged that he was tired, that he needed to play some more to get his timing back -- he'll start in center field again today against Boston.

"I worked out all winter," he said, "but you really can't recreate a game, even if you built a field of dreams. You need real players."

Funny, though, for a guy who is about to play on his field of dreams, Camden Yards, a guy ready to close a deal with his team of choice, a guy who's known as one of baseball's funny men, a guy who will, at the least, share the Orioles' center-field job, Van Slyke seemed unhappy. Reticent.

Van Slyke admitted to being somewhat dazed and confused by the circumstances of his signing. All winter, he believed that he would sign with the Orioles. He went to Baltimore and had his arms tugged at and his body prodded by team doctors.

The strike ended and Van Slyke stayed at home, in deference, he said, to the Orioles and what he believed was their desire to sign him. No sense in making the Orioles think he was out looking for another job, not when, it seemed to Van Slyke, that he was such a good fit.

The Orioles wanted a center fielder and seemed to want him. Van Slyke is a center fielder and wanted to play for the Orioles.

But 12 days ago, his agent relayed bad news to Van Slyke: Orioles gen

eral manager Roland Hemond had called to say that the O's no longer had any interest in the former Pirate.

Club sources say that the Orioles' last offer to Van Slyke was a one-year deal for $1 million, and that Van Slyke's agent wanted a one-year deal for $1.5 million, or about $2.15 million less than what he earned in '94. The Orioles didn't believe that any other club was seriously interested and felt no compulsion to adjust their offer, and the two sides were at an impasse.

The Orioles pulled their offer off the table, and Van Slyke, having counted on a summer at Camden Yards, suddenly was without a job and on his way to Homestead, Fla., to work out in the players association free-agent camp.

"Strange," he said. "That's a good word for it."

While the Orioles made noises about going with rookie Curtis Goodwin in center field and signed veteran outfielder Kevin Bass, Van Slyke trained with other free agents -- at one point, he played 54 holes of golf in one day -- and tried to figure out why he was without a job.

Maybe it was prompting from The Voice of Reason, but on Monday, Van Slyke's agent called Hemond and shortly thereafter, a deal was reached. Almost.

The Orioles still wanted to give Regan a chance to see Van Slyke in person.

"I just didn't think I'd have to go through a litmus test at this point in my career," he said. "I don't think I'm the first guy who's ever been involved in a spring training tryout. I'm going to try to keep my pride out of the way."

Van Slyke, naturally self-deprecating, then attempted to recall DTC his last tryout. Back in high school, for the Pirates. A guy named Doug Frobel was signed out of that tryout and eventually played in the big leagues.

"That was 18 years ago," Van Slyke said.

But now that Van Slyke's made up his mind to move ahead, the Voice of Reason might say, there's still plenty of time ahead of him.

ORIOLES TODAY

Exhibition opponent: Boston Red Sox

Site: Fort Myers, Fla.

Time: 1:05 p.m.

TV: HTS

Starters: Orioles' Jamie Moyer vs. Red Sox's Tim Vanegmond

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