Reboulet making most of rare chance to start With Alomar out, reserve has hand in hot streak

Sidelight

"I do think our team is playing so well now because the players know this club isn't going to be broken up before the season is over." Jeff Reboulet

July 24, 1998|By Bill Free | Bill Free,SUN STAFF

Last month in Philadelphia, Jeff Reboulet joked to a reporter who was looking for a story: "If I demanded a trade with just 40 at-bats, it would be nothing more than a note."

It was just one of many times in his career that Reboulet has laughed at himself and his role as a utility infielder.

But once Reboulet steps on the field, all the jokes stop.

"I told Syd Thrift [director of player development] last year, they ought to put a camera on Jeff every time he walks on the field and show it to all the minor-leaguers," said Orioles manager Ray Miller last night before Reboulet started his fifth straight game, four of them at second base because of a finger injury to Roberto Alomar. "He works hard on bunting, never misses a sign, had a perfect squeeze bunt in a perfect situation the other night and he hits home runs off Randy Johnson."

Make that two home runs in one season last year off the hard-throwing Seattle left-hander.

The second homer off Johnson came in the fourth game of the Division Series against Seattle and goes down as one of Reboulet's two biggest thrills in his six years in the major leagues.

"You would think my first hit in the majors would be my top thrill," said Reboulet, 34, who in a recent Sports Illustrated survey was one of four Orioles picked among the top 15 current major-league players who would make the best manager. "But with all the stuff I got from hitting that home run off Randy in the playoffs, it was a probably bigger hit for the organization and team. Personally, my first hit is probably No. 1 because it proved I was there."

Proving himself almost every year has been a must for the 6-foot, 170-pound infielder.

He almost gave up baseball in 1990 when the Minnesota Twins sent him back to Double-A Orlando to be a utility player after four seasons in the game.

It was almost the final slap in the face for Reboulet, but he didn't quit because of a longtime philosophy about the game.

"I've always believed that just went you think you're in, you could be out real soon, and when you think you're out, you could be in," he said.

Only once did Reboulet have a two-year contract, and that was in 1995 and 1996 with the Twins.

"I had no stress in 1995, and that means a lot to a player," said Reboulet. "I hit .292 in 1995 and would have hit .300 for the only time in my career if I had gone 2-for-5 on the last day of the season instead of 0-for-5. Most of the players never know where they're going to be the next season, and that creates stress. I do think our team is playing so well now because the players know this club isn't going to be broken up before the season is over."

Reboulet said he would love to finish his career in Baltimore because the Orioles offer everything he wants in the game.

"I love to win, I like being excited every time I go to the park, and my goal is to wear a World Series ring just once," he said. "Baltimore gives me the first two things every game and I hope to get that ring with them. We can do it this year if we just take one game at a time and see what happens."

Reboulet has performed exceptionally well over the past four games as he has been given a long-awaited opportunity to start.

He gave the Orioles their first sacrifice squeeze bunt of the season Tuesday night, scoring Mike Bordick in a 7-1 win over Oakland, and he hit a home run and had a sacrifice bunt Wednesday night in a 5-4 victory over the A's. He went 1-for-4 last night.

Defensively, Reboulet keeps making almost all the plays.

But what about this recent home run production off Johnson?

"People ask if I getting tipped on his pitches," Reboulet said. "It's nothing like that. I'm a fastball hitter, and he supplies all the power as hard as he throws and I just make contact."

Off the field, Reboulet looks more like the smallish, mild-mannered kid on the end of a high school bench who might never get a chance to play.

"I think a player changes his attitude once he steps on the baseball field," said Reboulet, who played ice hockey in high school in Kettering, Ohio. "I know you have to change to survive when you step on the ice to play hockey."

Pub Date: 7/24/98

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