FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Vi and Cal Ripken Sr. found a neighbor to take care of their cat, loaded up their car and headed to Florida, and yesterday they arrived at the Orioles' training complex.
"Because my wife told me Sunday we're going to Florida," Ripken said.
Standing nearby, his wife said that wasn't exactly the case. "I said I'd really like to go," she said. "We got someone to take care of the cat, and once that was done . . ."
They were on their way. The Ripkens, relaxed and vivacious, received a warm welcome here, especially from Orioles shortstop Cal Jr., who couldn't resist poking his mother with his bat whenever he walked by, or mussing her hair. "I'll start worrying," she said, "when he stops doing that."
Cal Ripken Sr., the longtime coach and manager for the Orioles, said it was strange, the Orioles training in Fort Lauderdale, the former home of the New York Yankees. "I guess it is," he said. "The first thing I did today [was] look to see if George [Steinbrenner] was out there sweeping water off the infield."
Ripken remembered that as a player, current Orioles manager Davey Johnson was late to spring training a couple of times. "But when we were in Miami and he came to bat, the first time up he hit the ball off the center-field wall. I can remember him doing that twice."
Right then, Johnson came by, and defended his tardiness. "I always had to hold out," he said. "I didn't have an agent. They gave all the money to the pitchers."
You still hit well, Ripken Sr. told him.
"Yeah," Johnson said, "I was always hacked off when I came in [to camp]."
Pitcher Alan Mills walked past and said to Ripken Sr., "Miss you."
Andy Etchebarren referred to him as Mr. Ripken.
"Mr.?" Ripken said. "I'm not that old."
Ripken was asked if he had any desire to come back. "I didn't have any desire to leave in the first place," he said.
The rock pile
Pitching coach Pat Dobson asked left-hander David Wells how he was feeling before yesterday's exhibition with the Atlanta Braves. "Great," Wells said. "Best I've felt all spring. But I'll probably go out there and pitch like a pile of rocks."
Pitch like a pile of rocks. Whatever that means, Wells did it: The Braves battered him, nine hits and seven runs in three innings. He had a hard time getting any of his fastballs down in the strike zone, and Atlanta hammered away.
At one point, as the Braves put together a string of hits, shortstop Cal Ripken asked loud and facetiously, "Are there any outs?"
Wells stepped behind the mound, disgusted with himself, and nodded at Ripken. "That's cool."
Wells then yelled to Braves second baseman Mark Lemke, standing on second after the third of three consecutive doubles. "Don't you guys ever hit any singles?" Wells said, and Lemke broke up laughing.
Wells said later, "You've got to start talking to somebody when you're getting your butt kicked."
In the big picture, though, Wells said he was satisfied in getting in his work, and he felt great, even as he pitched horribly.
"I don't really care if we win or lose down here [in spring training]," he said. "We're just trying to get ready for the season."
The price of outfielders
An official with the Royals indicated yesterday that among Kansas City's left-handed-hitting outfielders, the Orioles' most serious interest seems to be in Michael Tucker, who batted .260 with four homers and 17 RBIs in 177 at-bats last season.
However, the official said it was unlikely the Royals and Orioles will make a trade involving Tucker; the Orioles are willing to part with left-hander Arthur Rhodes, but the Royals want Armando Benitez.
The Royals also have Tom Goodwin and Jon Nunnally, but the Orioles would have to part with at least one very good prospect (and they don't have many) to get Goodwin, and Nunnally may be too inconsistent for the Orioles' liking. The Orioles are also tracking Tony Tarasco of Montreal, but the more the Expos see Tarasco, the more they like him and the more unwilling they seem to be to give him up. All of this should be good news for Mark Smith -- his chances of making the Orioles will improve if they don't acquire another outfielder.
Huson getting restless
Time is of the essence for Jeff Huson, sidelined for the past four days after getting hit on his left hand by a pitched ball. Huson, who is trying to win a utility role with the club, knows that Manny Alexander is playing great and Bill Ripken is actually playing, and he knows Johnson will want to see him some more before making a decision.
"I need to get back in there," Huson said, flexing his hand as he spoke. "Maybe [today] or Sunday, I'll get some at-bats."
Huson hit off a tee yesterday, but it could be a few more days before he's back in action. He had his hand X-rayed Monday, and the first doctor he saw told him he may have a chipped bone on his thumb. He had the hand X-rayed again Tuesday, and another doctor told him the chip may be from an old injury.
Either way, it's getting better.