Ripken secreted away to Sarasota rehab

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Officials kept plans mum to delay Iron Man `circus'

May 11, 1999|By Joe Strauss and Roch Kubatko | Joe Strauss and Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

CLEVELAND -- Proving once more that there is no simple move when it surrounds third baseman Cal Ripken, the Orioles quietly dispatched the rehabilitating All-Star to their Sarasota, Fla., minor-league facility Sunday evening so he could participate in a controlled scrimmage yesterday against a group of young players from the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The organizational misdirection was intended to allow Ripken a day off from a "circus" of attention, according to club officials.

"It's just a working camp," manager Ray Miller said. "The idea was for two or three days for him to lead off every inning and get five, six or seven at-bats against live pitching in a fairly uninhibited situation."

Ripken, Miller and assistant general manager Bruce Manno took turns Sunday insisting no decision had been made. Meanwhile, Ripken left the clubhouse during the Orioles' 5-0 win over the Detroit Tigers for a flight to Sarasota.

Miller said yesterday he hopes Ripken will be able to rejoin the team when it arrives in Texas on Thursday. Ripken has not played since being scratched from the lineup April 18 but insisted before Sunday's game that he feels physically ready to play.

Miller attempted to distance himself from the intrigue, insisting he had no knowledge of Ripken's getaway until after Sunday's game.

Batting leadoff in every inning yesterday, Ripken went 2-for-7 while splitting his time between third base and designated hitter. Among the pitchers Ripken faced was Chris Peters, who had spent the past three seasons in the major leagues. Minor-league director Tom Trebelhorn is in Florida to supervise Ripken's rehab.

General manager Frank Wren described yesterday's outing as very positive.

Ripken will play under similar circumstances today in Fort Myers, according to the same Orioles officials who orchestrated Sunday's deception.

Indeed, the Orioles admit Ripken's celebrity factors in his stopover against nothing stiffer than Gulf Coast League competition instead of at Double-A Bowie or Triple-A Rochester, where virtually any other player would prepare.

Miller classified it as "an absolute joke" to dispatch Ripken to "any one of those places in Maryland because there would be a mob of people and a lot of distractions. We sent him down [Sunday] afternoon to let him get set up before all the TV cameras show up."

Miller was particularly impressed by Ripken's 10-minute batting practice Sunday and his increased flexibility.

"He showed me agility and running," Miller said. "He was flying around the bases in batting practice. He was swinging a live bat and `Crow' was happy with his batting stance."

Hitting coach Terry Crowley has supervised Ripken's ever-evolving stance, which is now markedly less contorted than before he landed on the disabled list. When Ripken returns, he will carry a .179 average.

Disenchanted with rookie third baseman Willis Otanez -- 8-for-51 (.157) since April 21 -- Miller has allowed Jeff Reboulet to warm the position until Ripken's return. Otanez received a second consecutive start last night, however, when second baseman Delino DeShields was scratched with a bad back.

Alomar one happy Indian

Roberto Alomar is healthy, happy and in his first year with a new club. The combination always has added up to big numbers in the past, and this season is no different.

The former Oriole has plugged a gaping hole at second base for the Cleveland Indians, who signed him to a four-year, $32 million deal in November. Alomar began last night hitting .342 with 10 doubles, two triples, five homers, 19 RBIs and eight steals, leading the Indians to the best record in the majors and reminding the Orioles how dominant he can be when in the proper frame of mind.

"It's been good here," he said before driving in the go-ahead run in a 6-4 win. "We've got a good bunch of guys. We just worry about the game of baseball. We play hard for nine innings and then everybody goes in different directions. But while we're here, it's like everybody's family."

Alomar spent three often tumultuous seasons with the Orioles, dogged by the controversy surrounding the spitting incident with umpire John Hirschbeck in 1996, limited by an assortment of injuries and hurt by accusations he wasn't giving a full effort.

"Last year, being injured, I couldn't play the way I'm capable of playing. I had a bad ankle, bad shoulder, bad finger. A lot of things happened and I couldn't play to my potential," he said.

"Now, they are letting me play my game here. They have given me the confidence to play my game."

Said Miller: "Robbie's a good kid. He's just a sensitive person. The booing really bothered him. I think it was kind of hard for him because every time they announced the lineup anywhere, Cal Ripken got the greatest ovation in the world and he'd get booed off the field."

Alomar insisted yesterday he wanted to stay with the Orioles.

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