Resplendent O's welcome getaway day

March 30, 1997|By John Eisenberg

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- How could you tell it was the Orioles' last day in Florida? After almost seven weeks of wearing shorts and flip-flops, the players came to work yesterday morning wearing coats and ties, the better to change back into for their flight to Baltimore last night.

There was still one more game to play yesterday, but the clubhouse took on a deserted appearance as the players packed their belongings and shut down their spring training home at Fort Lauderdale Stadium.

Pete Incaviglia, the burly designated hitter, stuffed his clothes into a Gucci bag as hitting coach Rick Down shook his head.

"Look at that bag," Down said. "You don't think of Incaviglia and a fancy bag like that. You think of him, you think of a guy who hasn't shaved in two days."

Incaviglia, a sharp dresser, looked up with a raised eyebrow.

"That's right, that's right," he said slowly.

Randy Myers, the iconoclastic closer who hasn't met a dress code he couldn't challenge, wore a pair of khaki fishing shorts with snap-on legs that converted them into long pants.

"The definition of fashion," Myers said with a wry smile.

"There's something very wrong with you, Randall," Incaviglia said.

Outside, the sky was bright blue and the morning was heating up in a hurry, headed toward 90 degrees. The players meandered through a pre-game workout as the grandstand slowly filled. The opponent? The Montreal Expos, again.

"It's nice down here," pitcher Jesse Orosco said, taking a break, "but it's time for us to go. Time to get out of here. We were here 45 days. We got our work in. We're ready. A player always wants to get the season started. Get back to those big crowds."

Tony Tarasco was in the lineup, playing left field and batting ninth.

"This [spring season] went on about two weeks too long," said Tarasco, who played his way onto the team. "This was fun, but enough is enough. Guys are getting anxious, getting the jitters about the season starting."

Asked how the team looked, Tarasco raised a thumb and forefinger, leaving them an inch apart.

"We're this much better than last year," he said.

Why?

"E. D." he said, nodding at Eric Davis, who has replaced Bobby Bonilla in right field. "Jimmy Key and [backup catcher] Lenny Webster. It just feels like we have a better edge than we did leaving camp last year."

He paused.

"And there's not too much 'me, me, I' stuff on this team," he said. "Everyone wants to win."

A long line of walk-up ticket buyers pushed the crowd beyond 4,000, one of the largest of a slow season at the gate. The crowd cheered for Cal Ripken, booed Roberto Alomar and watched planes take off and land at the private airstrip located beyond the outfield.

The Expos took a 3-0 lead on a home run by David Segui in the third, but a far bigger cheer came an inning later, when a man sitting in a box seat proposed to his girlfriend. A "Will you marry me?" message appeared on the scoreboard.

"Well, what did she say?" cried the public address announcer.

Word of her "yes" response filtered quickly through the stands and the crowd stood and cheered as the couple embraced.

When Ripken was pulled after two at-bats, he set up shop down the right-field line, signing autographs in the heat. With seemingly half the stadium lined up to get near Ripken, the Orioles rallied in the sixth and eighth on home runs by Jeffrey Hammonds and minor-league catcher Chris Gresham, the latter tying the score at 3-3.

General manager Pat Gillick sat behind the plate during the rally, talking to a scout measuring pitch speeds. Assistant general manager Kevin Malone sat in front of Gillick.

"We had a very positive camp," Malone said. "We accomplished what we wanted to accomplish. The only real negatives were the injuries to Brady [Anderson] and Incaviglia. So we got a little nicked up. But our bullpen is a whole lot healthier than it was coming out of camp last year. A lot better, too."

On the field, Myers pitched a scoreless top of the ninth and the Orioles then completed their rally when Mike Bordick reached second on a throwing error and Jeff Reboulet drove him in with a single to right. Orioles win, 4-3.

Manager Davey Johnson hustled across the field to shake hands with Expos manager Felipe Alou as the stands emptied.

"How 'bout them apples?" Johnson exclaimed as reporters surrounded him on the field. "That's a good way to leave Florida. We're ready to get out of here. Ready to get home."

Inside the clubhouse, the players showered and dressed in a hurry as the driver warmed up the bus for the trip to the airport.

Myers, the day's winning pitcher, added a sports jacket and clownishly wide tie to his shorts ensemble. Relief pitcher Alan Mills complimented Myers on his jacket.

"But take the tag off," Mills said.

Myers looked down at the tag on his right sleeve.

"I like the tag!" Myers exclaimed.

The players headed for the bus when they were dressed. Davis peeked around the bus at a cluster of fans seeking autographs. A woman climbed up the chain-link fence and beseeched him to sign.

"Please, Mr. Ripken!" she shouted.

"Mr. Ripken?" Davis asked, shaking his head.

After seven weeks in Florida, it was time to go home.

Baseball '97

Baseball '97, a special section in today's paper, contains a complete preview of the Orioles and the rest of the major leagues, plus coverage of baseball's season-long tribute to Jackie Robinson. [Section D]

Pub Date: 3/30/97

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