Emotion? Not for this homecoming PTC

July 21, 1995|By KEN ROSENTHAL

MINNEAPOLIS -- Perhaps Scott Erickson got what he deserved. It doesn't matter what uniform he wears at the Metrodome. His team always plays like the Twins.

The Orioles spoiled Erickson's return to Minnesota yesterday, not that it was a particularly emotional experience. Only 16,025 welcomed Erickson back to the park where he once threw a no-hitter and pitched in the World Series.

Let's face it, these homecomings aren't what they used to be. Players today expect to change teams, and when it happens, they all but sneer, "Good riddance."

Such was the case with Erickson, who feuded with manager Tom Kelly and pitching coach Dick Such in Minnesota, and took a shot at owner Carl Pohlad when he departed.

"They should turn the team over to someone who wants a winning team, someone who likes baseball," Erickson said on the day he was traded to the Orioles for Scott Klingenbeck and a player to be named.

Erickson was right about Pohlad, one of the many curmudgeons ruining the game. But he wasn't exactly standing on high moral ground, seeing as how he's earning $1.8625 million, and left the Twins with a 4-6 record and 5.95 ERA.

Whatever, his return yesterday was marked by one -- count 'em -- one banner in center field. Erickson received a nice ovation when he left the game after 6 2/3 innings, but, otherwise, the crowd barely acknowledged him.

Twins future (Frankie Rodriguez) beat Twins past (Erickson), with Minnesota taking the game, 5-2, and the season series, 6-3. Too bad the strike cost the Twins three games with the Orioles. Otherwise, they'd be closing in on Cleveland.

But back to Erickson.

Afterward, he stood shirtless at his locker, surrounded by a dozen or so media types, including three television crews. Was coming home a big deal? No, it wasn't a big deal. Nothing is a big deal to these '90s mercenaries.

"That's the way it goes, you know?" Erickson said. "For over a week, I knew I'd have to pitch this game. I tried to block it out, go out there and pretend it was another team."

That's what Kevin Brown did Monday in Texas, that's what Rafael Palmeiro did against the Rangers last season. Erickson was a Twin. Now, he's an Oriole. Next year, who knows?

Erickson, 27, could remain an Oriole if the current economic system remains intact, and if the club offers him salary arbitration. Or he could become a free agent, depending on the terms of the next collective-bargaining agreement.

Easy come, easy go. Brown and Palmeiro also burned their bridges before arriving in Baltimore; Brown in a series of 'N contentious contract negotiations, Palmeiro in a weeklong tirade after the Rangers signed Will Clark.

We'll leave Palmeiro out of this -- he signed for five years, and is committed to winning in Baltimore. Brown, on the other hand, plays for Team Boras agent Scott Boras. He's under a one-year contract. Don't grow too fond of him.

That's the nature of the modern game. Cal Ripken is one of the few players likely to spend his entire career with one team. The others are defined by how often they're traded or released, or by their free-agent contracts.

Heck, Kirby Puckett is as big a fixture in Minnesota as Ripken is in Baltimore, but he might exercise an escape clause in his contract after this season if he isn't traded first.

So, what did you expect from Erickson yesterday, tears of longing for the Twin Cities? It doesn't work like that anymore, even though past ties are not so easily broken.

"It's tough," Palmeiro said before the game. "I talked to him about it yesterday. I went up to him and said, 'It feels weird, doesn't it?' He said, 'It's real weird.'

"The hardest part is leading up to the game, sitting around and waiting, warming up in the bullpen. Once the game starts, everything is gone. It's just business."

Just business. Players say that more and more frequently these days. Just business. It was that way for Brown in his return to Texas four days ago. And it was that way for Erickson yesterday.

He retired his first nine hitters, reminding himself to relax, and throw strikes. Only Puckett seemed to grasp the oddity of facing a pitcher who was his teammate for five seasons. "For my first at-bat, I found myself just looking at him, thinking, 'What's he doing out there in that uniform?' " Puckett said. "Then after the first inning, we were saying, 'We'll see what happens the second time around.' "

What happened was a typical Metrodome rally. Four straight singles to open the fourth inning, including one when Palmeiro failed to cover first base. Erickson escaped with only a 3-1 deficit. It could have been worse.

"Grounder to center, grounder to first base, grounder to left, jam shot to left three runs," pitching coach Mike Flanagan said. "It's hard to go home and beat yourself up about that."

Yet, Erickson blamed only himself, saying he threw too many fastballs. It was a refreshing change from his days in Minnesota, when he frequently made excuses, rather than master a third pitch to go with his sinking fastball and slider.

Maybe that's a sign of maturity. Maybe Erickson is happy to be an Oriole. Maybe he's even happier to be a former Twin. In any case, Flanagan isn't pressing him to develop a third pitch. Erickson won his first two Orioles starts without one.

He can pitch, that much is certain, but the larger question is, where does he go from here? Will Erickson revive his career with the Orioles? Or will he just keep wandering from team to team, another nomad in a sport that has lost its way?

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