Baines is instant hit with Indians

Sidelight

Teammates already raving about sweet-swinging DH

September 04, 1999|By Bill Free | Bill Free,SUN STAFF

The baseball hitting legend of Harold Baines keeps growing every day.

It was first reported that Baines stepped to the plate just 40 minutes after arriving in Cleveland eight days ago and lashed a two-run first-inning single to left-center that carried the Indians to a 2-1 victory over Tampa Bay.

"It was really only 30 minutes," Baines said last night as he returned to Baltimore for the first time since being traded. "I just got a good pitch to hit and drove it, that's all."

Baines flew from Detroit to Cleveland that Aug. 27 night and immediately delivered in the clutch for the team that acquired him as possibly the final piece to a World Series championship puzzle.

As time passes, the Baines legend probably will grow and someone will have him arriving five minutes before going to the plate against the Devil Rays.

"It's all like a storybook," Baines' new Cleveland teammate Jim Thome said last night. "It's like Harold is getting out of bed and hitting the ball. He's just so smart and everything is so effortless. I'd like to just play as long [20 years] as he has, not to mention all his accomplishments."

Nothing really changes much for Baines except the number on the back of his uniform.

He was wearing No. 33 for the Indians last night instead of No. 3 for the Orioles, but all anybody wanted to do was talk about the sweet Baines swing at the age of 40.

"He has a classic swing and the amazing ability to keep everything on an even keel no matter what happens," said Thome. "He doesn't even know what pressure is. He's going to mean a lot to us. He could be the one ingredient that puts us over the top."

Indians left fielder Richie Sexson was 5 years old when Baines broke in with the Chicago White Sox. "Harold's done it so many years that it's really unbelievable," he said. "The thing about him is he just loves coming to the plate and hitting line drives."

Baines said in July he prefers hitting those liners in an Orioles uniform and wanted to finish out his career here.

He enjoys the luxury of commuting from St. Michael's to play, so he can be there for his family when it needs him. Like this morning when Harold Jr., 11, has a soccer game.

Harold Jr. didn't attend last night's game because he had to get up early for that soccer game.

"He has his priorities straight," said Baines. "Our family matters are pretty solid even though I'm in another city now. Cleveland isn't that far away and I'm just going to stay in a hotel."

But Baines understands why he was traded and has made the best of it.

"You have to adapt if you want to play," he said. "It's all business. I understand Cleveland wanted me so badly that the Orioles had to make the trade. The only good thing is, I'll be in the playoffs."

This is the third time in his career that Baines has been acquired late in the season by a team headed to the playoffs, joining Oakland in 1990 and Baltimore in 1997.

So what happens next year?

"I'll be a free agent and it would be stupid not to test the market," said Baines.

It's obvious Baines would like to land in Baltimore again.

"The fans here appreciate me," he said before receiving a semi-standing ovation in the first inning. "I won't know how I feel until I get up to the plate. It wasn't hard coming back here and going to the visitor's clubhouse because it's the second time I've done it [after being traded by Baltimore]."

Baines didn't hurt the Orioles last night, striking out, grounding out twice and walking.

Pub Date: 9/04/99

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