O's Hammonds savors success Fast start, hot bat are healthy change from past years

April 07, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

MINNEAPOLIS -- Ferdinand Hammonds called his son, Jeffrey, yesterday morning to talk, as they talk every day. Basic stuff, about what pitch Jeffrey hit for a home run in Friday night's Orioles game, what his father is working on around the house.

Ferdinand Hammonds, his son knows, instinctively reads Jeffrey's moods and, when necessary, he offers help. He counseled his son last summer, when Jeffrey struggled in his comeback from reconstructive knee surgery.

But those kinds of talks aren't necessary these days. Jeffrey Hammonds is healthy and playing well and enjoying life with the Orioles. Going into last night's game, Hammonds was batting .429 and running better than he has since the knee surgery in October of 1994.

"I want to enjoy this, because the last 2 1/2 years I haven't had a lot of pleasant [times]," Hammonds said yesterday.

"I don't want to think about last year anymore. I can't forget it, but I don't want to dwell on it. All I can do is be happy knowing that I have an opportunity to play again."

What a unique opportunity. Since Hammonds was drafted in the first round in 1992, he has been followed by high expectations. Even last year, coming off major surgery, the Orioles counted on him as a starting outfielder and an important contributor to their offense.

This season, however, Hammonds is playing among stars such as Roberto Alomar, Bobby Bonilla, Cal Ripken and Rafael Palmeiro. He hit ninth the first four games before being moved up to seventh last night. He can have an 0-for-4 night and nobody really notices.

"It's the same for Jeffrey and [Tony] Tarasco," assistant general manager Kevin Malone said. "Both those guys can just go out and do what they can do. It's not like everything rides on their shoulders."

Hammonds appreciates the greatness around him, in the lineup and in the clubhouse.

"Nobody has to have a remarkable year," Hammonds said. "Everybody knows that there are other guys who can pick them up. Like [Friday] -- we went from Kent Mercker to [Roger] McDowell, McDowell to [Randy] Myers. It's just different than last year. It's really hard to compare, because it's so vastly different.

"There's no pressure on me, other than to play and play hard. We have one common goal, and that is to win."

When Hammonds arrived in camp in mid-February, the Orioles' staff was concerned. They didn't think he was running well or swinging well. But a week into the exhibition games, Hammonds began to hit; by the end of spring, he led the Orioles with a .400 average.

In the first week of the season, he has continued to hit, with six hits in his first 14 at-bats. His first at-bat last night he was retired, but on a 400-foot-plus line drive to the center-field wall.

"Maybe we were expecting too much early," said Malone. "But we didn't feel like he came into camp ready. He was strong, but he wasn't really in shape, physically or mentally, to play.

"But he must know himself. He got himself ready, and when the bell rang, he was ready to answer it. He's looked pretty good the first four games."

Pub Date: 4/07/96

Orioles today

Opponent: Minnesota Twins

Site: Metrodome, Minneapolis

Time: 2: 05 p.m.

TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Orioles' Mike Mussina (1-0, 2.57) vs. Twins' Rich Robertson (0-1, 32.40)

Late O's game

Last night's Orioles-Twins game in Minneapolis did not end in time to be included in this edition. A complete report can be found in later editions. For a report on last night's game and other Orioles information, call Sundial at (410) 783-1800, ext. 5023.

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