DeShields' play is speaking volumes

Player isn't talking, but his performance, attitude impress Orioles

Baseball

September 15, 2000|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

The Orioles will distribute ballots tonight to determine this summer's Most Valuable Oriole. Delino DeShields is a leading candidate in the yearly write-in campaign.

In a season turned upside down during the last week of July, what more fitting selection than a player who has switched positions, adopted a new role within the batting order and quietly changed perceptions of a once-dismissive fan base while winning over his new manager. Since the Orioles underwent their dramatic July turnover, no one has been more productive.

"Since the trades happened, Bop has really stepped up and assumed a leadership role," said Hargrove. "He's not a rah-rah, follow-the-flag kind of guy. He goes out there to play, and if he sees a kid doing something wrong, he'll say something. He plays hard from the first pitch to the last pitch. He doesn't offer excuses when it doesn't work. He's a man's man."

Rather than being defined by injuries or defensive quirks, DeShields is considered this season's "most consistent" team member, according to manager Mike Hargrove. He has contributed quietly while filling the No. 3 spot in the batting order and shifting from second base to left field.

DeShields held to his season-long silence in declining to be interviewed. The policy began last year during his several injury-related absences. DeShields believed the media aligned against him in supporting the ascendance of second base prospect Jerry Hairston and the bruises remain. Rather than let the transition represent an irritant, DeShields has used it as an opportunity to reach out.

"No one has done more to help me than Delino," says Hairston, projected as next season's starting second baseman. "He's gone out of his way to support me, and that's meant a lot. It could have become a very uncomfortable situation, but it hasn't."

DeShields said in spring training he would welcome he and Hairston playing on the same field at the same time. Hargrove gave him exposure in center field then didn't pursue a change until placing him there Aug. 13 in Kansas City. DeShields has played 26 of the past 28 games in left field, showing plus range, a developing outfield arm and enthusiasm for the role.

A shortstop converted to second base early in his career with the Montreal Expos, DeShields has done much to make himself more comfortable in his new role.

DeShields' expressionless on-field demeanor hasn't changed. His production has. Despite suffering from a strained neck muscle for most of this season, DeShields has been the team's most consistent performer, hitting .298 with eight home runs, 73 RBIs, 77 runs and 32 stolen bases. They are staggering numbers compared against those of a year ago, when a strained hamstring and back spasms limited him to a .264 average, six home runs, 34 RBIs, 46 runs and a career-low 11 steals in 96 games.

"If I sat in the stands and never saw him change expressions ... it's hard to get to know people like that and their passion," Hargrove said. "I appreciate people like that."

Most impressive to Hargrove has been DeShields' willingness to become a quiet force within a younger clubhouse along with Jeff Conine, Cal Ripken and Mark Lewis.

Hargrove earlier this week projected DeShields as next season's starting left fielder, a tacit suggestion that Brady Anderson will land as right fielder or designated hitter.

No one has had to ask DeShields to assume more responsibility within the clubhouse, according to Hargrove.

"We as coaches have a lot to do. If you spend all your time as an enforcer, you don't get much time to coach," says Hargrove. "He's been a major help."

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Seattle Mariners

Site: Camden Yards

Time: 7:05

TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Mariners' Aaron Sele (14-10, 4.79) vs. Orioles' Jose Mercedes (12-5, 3.98)

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