Ripken finds 3rd 'just like old times' Return after 15 years is 'challenge,' but O's left side 'really good'

Vet same except for position

He says Johnson rift 'confronted, dealt with'

February 21, 1997|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Same old routine, same old Cal Ripken in his first day of spring training yesterday. He wore his hat cocked toward the front, stretched alongside longtime friends Brady Anderson and Mike Mussina, attempted a few batting practice swings rusty from the long winter's nap, and joked with fans.

"Hey, Cal, can you sign this?" yelled a boy, extending a baseball.

"What about school?" Ripken replied, with a wry grin. "Isn't school open?"

Same old Cal, right up to the moment when he jogged onto the field to take grounders -- at third base. Ripken's nearly 15-year tenure as the Orioles' everyday shortstop is over, and he returns to a position he played when he broke into the majors. "Just like old times," said Ripken, his face and arms gleaming with sweat.

Rarely does Ripken consider superlatives, rarely does he entertain speculation. But he expects that he and Bordick will be terrific together.

"Mike's a very good shortstop, there's no bones about it," said Ripken, "and everybody knows that. We should be able to have a really good left side of the infield. It would be hard to find a better left side of the infield."

Impossible, perhaps. The Orioles' coaching staff is giddy about Bordick's talents and dedication, and about Ripken's potential as a third baseman. Since Ripken moved from third to shortstop under Earl Weaver, the Orioles repeatedly have tried to find an everyday third baseman, from Todd Cruz to Craig Worthington to Leo Gomez to Bobby Bonilla.

The Orioles' new third baseman has played in 2,316 consecutive games, won two Most Valuable Player Awards and two Gold Glove Awards.

"It'll be a challenge," said Ripken. "I look forward to the challenge, and the newness of the position. At the same time, I will miss the responsibility around shortstop. There's no doubt I'll miss that. It's the best view in the field, and I enjoyed watching the signals, watching the swings. I'll miss that. But there will be other things that will occupy my mind and my attention.

"When [your] career winds down, maybe some of us need a challenge. It's a new beginning, a chance to re-learn, re-think a position and maybe extend my career."

Controversies are 'behind us'

Orioles manager Davey Johnson first considered moving Ripken third last May, and eventually did so for a while in July, chapters that seemed to serve as a wedge between player and manager.

Last fall, when general manager Pat Gillick first acknowledged the Orioles were thinking about acquiring a new shortstop, Ripken said he disagreed with any assessment that his defensive skills had diminished. His agent, Ron Shapiro, arranged for a meeting with Gillick, assistant GM Kevin Malone and Johnson to discuss the impending move.

Ripken met with Johnson again before yesterday's workout, and they discussed Ripken's playing schedule for this spring. Afterward, Ripken said he has "no problems moving to third" and never has, and indicated that any conflicts from last year are resolved.

"There were many controversies," Ripken said. "When I look back on them, many controversies were borne out of frustration and some misunderstanding, and I have no doubt all those are behind us. They've been confronted, dealt with, talked about."

Lets Bordick have 'his day'

Ripken declined interviews for virtually the entire off-season, as the Orioles decided to switch him to third, as they signed Bordick, as Gillick and Malone altered the team from a slow, slugging juggernaut into a sleeker, faster team. Ripken's public silence led to speculation that he was unhappy.

But Ripken said yesterday that he was merely trying to enjoy the off-season. "I didn't really keep a low profile," he said. "I enjoyed my off-season. It was a chance to get a break away from the attention. If I chose to do so, I could've had the attention. It was a time to enjoy the family, refuel, enjoy the down time, knowing what you have to put up with when you come here."

L He looked at the reporters, smiled, and added, "No offense."

Ripken said he declined to appear at Bordick's news conference out of respect.

"I sent my congratulations after he signed," Ripken said. "I stayed away because it was his day. It wasn't my day. I respected him as a player, [enough] to stay away from his day.

"I talked to him, that famous who-was-going-to-make-the-phone-call story. I sent congratulations to him."

As Ripken discussed the adjustments necessary to playing alongside Bordick, he sounds much as he did last spring, as he prepared to team with second baseman Roberto Alomar in the middle of the infield.

"We've just got to coordinate things," he said, "try to understand each other at the best level we can, be familiar with each other. There will be situations, hit-and-runs, when I might offer something. I will do that naturally, and that might or might not be helpful. I can't think of anything that would be problematic."

Protecting his arm

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