Second year easier hop for Bordick

March 22, 1998|By Ken Rosenthal rTC

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Umpire Drew Coble once said that ejecting Cal Ripken from a game at Memorial Stadium was like "throwing God out of Sunday school."

Orioles manager Ray Miller described Mike Bordick's plight in similar terms, saying that succeeding Ripken at shortstop was "almost like replacing God in his house."

And, with Ripken moving to third base, having him live next door.

No one will ever know the pressure Bordick experienced taking over for Ripken, one of the great shortstops in major-league history. To this day, Bordick maintains that the pressure of joining a new team was worse.

Does it even matter anymore? Bordick looks more relaxed this spring, more comfortable. It will be a shock if he again hits .236. Something closer to .258, his career average entering last season, would be more like it.

Miller said Bordick is showing more pop, leading the self-deprecating shortstop to joke, "the wind is always blowing out here." He knows he isn't going to turn into Alex Rodriguez. But may be he'll turn back into Mike Bordick, which would be a start.

"He wanted to do so well so bad last year," Orioles third base coach Sam Perlozzo said. "He knew the pressure was on him. All eyes were on him. 'This is the guy taking Cal Ripken's place.' Everyone was going to take notice of Mike Bordick.

"This year, he doesn't have that. He knows they're going to watch him for what he is, not what they expect him to be. Last year, he felt he had to do well not just for himself, but for every Orioles fan there is in the world."

Miller, too, said Bordick played under an immense burden, trying to be "so perfect defensively," especially early in the season. Not surprisingly, Bordick's offense suffered. His batting average was below .200 as late as May 24.

"It was a lot of pressure," Miller said. "Here's Bordick, coming in with the label, 'great defensive shortstop.' He's playing in front of 47,000 people, not wanting to screw up, have anyone say, 'Ripken could have had that.' "

A simple explanation, right?

Too simple, for Bordick's mind.

Maybe, out of deference to Ripken, he doesn't want to make excuses. He'll admit the media attention last spring was "different." But the toughest thing, he insists, was changing teams after 11 years in the Oakland organization.

"To tell you the truth, the situation with Cal didn't affect me as much as wanting to be part of the team, to be able to contribute," said Bordick, who signed with Oakland as a non-drafted free agent in 1986.

"I'm the type of player who believes in the importance of the team coming together. That's what I was striving for. Maybe I put too much pressure on myself. Everyone was doing so well early (( on. I wanted to be part of that so much."

Infielder Jeff Reboulet, one of Bordick's closest friends on the team, shared his discomfort. Like Bordick, he joined the Orioles last season after spending 11 years with the same organization, the Minnesota Twins.

Odd as it might sound, Reboulet said he could understand why Bordick would say that joining a playoff contender was even more difficult than replacing Cal Ripken.

"The first and foremost difference is the newness," Reboulet said. "You know they're watching you, but they don't really know you. They don't know what you're like, how you play, how you work. It's kind of a tough situation to come into. It's kind of scary."

4 Especially with a veteran club like the Orioles.

"Going to another [less successful] team, people would have looked up to him," Reboulet said. "Coming to this team, he was just another cog in the wheel.

"You come over here, you realize you'd better get your stuff together in a hurry. There are a lot of guys over here who can play the game. That can be intimidating, especially when you're new."

Did Bordick try to be too perfect? Well, he concedes that he pressed early, and "definitely didn't want to mess up." But Reboulet said that is simply the way his friend plays.

"I think he tries to be perfect every time, regardless of the situation," Reboulet said. "As a defensive player, I don't think anyone works harder than Mike. Not because of the situation last year. It's just the way he is.

"That's why he's in the big leagues. He's a self-made player, an overachiever. He's turned himself into an outstanding player. You take some guy with the same ability who doesn't work as hard, that guy doesn't even smell the big leagues."

But take a guy with that makeup and ask him to replace a legend, and it's a wonder that he didn't crumble entirely.

Bordick not only played steady defense all season, but also recovered from a 1-for-34 August slump to bat .330 in September and .400 in the Division Series against Seattle.

"What you saw in the second half was more about what the real Mike Bordick is about," Miller said. "You're seeing the real Mike Bordick this spring. He's relaxed, playing the game."

Miller described Bordick as "free of mind." Reboulet said he no longer hesitates to speak in the clubhouse, fearing his words will be misunderstood. Perlozzo, too, noticed a difference in

personality.

"With his demeanor last year, it took a long time to kind of know him," Perlozzo said. "He had some dry humor, but it took you awhile to get into that. He was very serious. He went about his business. That's all he worried about.

"This year, nobody works harder than him -- his work ethic is impeccable. But he's having a lot more fun. You see him smiling a lot, laughing, kidding.

"He's going out there, knowing he has a job. He doesn't have to prove anything to anyone. He's just going out and doing his thing."

Making God's house his own.

Pub Date: 3/22/98

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