Backup role suits Sisco

Man of many gloves trying to make O's any way he can

March 11, 2001|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Steve Sisco's locker looks like it would belong to a utility infielder, which is how he makes a living. He points to a first baseman's mitt laying on a top shelf, along with the assorted gloves he uses at second and third.

Or at shortstop. Or left field. Or behind the plate. He's pretty much done it all except pitch, and it would be wise to keep an eye on him during the next 15-0 game.

Sisco, 31, is trying to make the Orioles' roster as a backup middle infielder, where a need exists after the club failed to re-sign Mark Lewis. He once aspired to be the starting second baseman in Kansas City, but grew to understand that his best chance at staying in the majors was by not staying at one position.

He also learned the hard way that staying in one piece has its advantages. Sisco has overcome serious injuries in the mid-1990s, including a broken back from a snowmobile accident, to resume a career that could wind through Baltimore.

Having begun playing professionally in the Royals' system in 1992, Sisco didn't reach the majors until last season with the Atlanta Braves. He appeared in five games at second base, two at third, five in left field and one in right, and was included on their postseason roster. He played every position except catcher at Triple-A Omaha in 1998, and all except center field and catcher the next year at Triple-A Richmond.

"I knew I'd be out there," he said. "I just didn't know what glove to take."

He's been used at second base in the Orioles' intrasquad and exhibition games, hitting a two-run homer and adding an RBI double in Wednesday's loss to the St. Louis Cardinals, but the club must decide if he can be reliable enough at shortstop to occasionally spell Mike Bordick. Otherwise, it could be scanning the waiver wire near the end of spring training.

"He's where the ball's supposed to be all the time," said Syd Thrift, the Orioles' vice president of baseball operations. "He makes the plays, and he can hit."

Melvin Mora has been moved from shortstop to center field, but still could back up at his former position. If left fielder Delino DeShields isn't traded, he'd be an option at second base when Jerry Hairston needs a rest. But ideally, the Orioles would like a utility infielder capable of filling those spots.

Jesse Garcia didn't pan out, and he was traded to the Braves for Sisco on Dec. 19. Sisco wasn't blindsided by the transaction because he had heard some talk, most of it coming from his agent, that the Braves were going to move him. But he didn't expect to be with the Orioles.

"That kind of blew me away. I never would have imagined Baltimore. But I'm really happy about it because with the personnel that was with Atlanta, I saw myself with not quite the opportunity that I have here. This is kind of a neat thing," he said.

"It surprised me at first, but once it settled in and I realized what had happened, this is probably a better opportunity."

His chance at wearing a Royals uniform and perhaps starting at second base ended with injuries during the 1994 and '95 seasons. Sisco fractured his neck and broke his back and left arm in a horrific snowmobile accident, causing him to miss half of the next season, then suffered a broken ankle while chasing a fly ball during his first game in the outfield.

"I've had a couple of setbacks, and they caused me to start playing other positions," he said. "They didn't see me as their second baseman anymore because they had other guys who came up and did the job at second base, to their credit. I started moving around. I started at third more, and then short. And then they started playing me in the outfield, and I started catching bullpens. It was a slow transition. About 1995, I started to realize I'd be better off learning other positions."

How he survived the crash is a wonder. It happened the day after Christmas in Ohio in 1993, with his father-in-law riding ahead of him. He was found curled up in a ball in a ditch, the shield of his helmet covered with blood.

"I started skidding and corrected it," he said. "I was going off into this field, but it shallowed out and looked much flatter than it was. I hit something and was ejected, and I was knocked out. My father-in-law saw the sled going without me on it and came back. It almost gave him a heart attack. He thought I was gone. I had rocks embedded in my helmet, all the way through. Basically I was just pile-drived right into this ditch.

"He went to get help and I woke up. The first thing I heard was the engine of the sled going, and that's kind of what brought me back. I was thinking, `I should still be on that.' "

Sisco managed to walk away, certain only that he had broken his arm. His first clue was the way it hung at his side. He'd find out later about the neck injury and the fractured vertebra.

"I felt like I was coming out of a surgery. Things get real bright and start rattling around in your head," he said.

"I went into shock as soon as they came driving up in a Jeep."

His back and neck were fully healed by March, but his arm still had a gap in it that kept him out for half the season.

He found religion during that difficult period, "not really as a result of the accident but just because I was missing something in my life," he said.

"I fully see how God has manipulated the whole thing, has controlled the entire scenario from then until now. It's just been neat to look back and see how, at that point, I could have been done. I could have been out of the game. For some reason, I've stayed in it."

He stays off snowmobiles at the insistence of his family. "My sister-in-law and brother-in-law sold them, not right away but soon after that," he said.

"It gave everybody on that side of the family quite a scare. I feel the best about it because I don't remember a thing. The last thing I remember was seeing the speedometer just under 60, and I went, `Whew, I missed the fence post.' But I don't know if I missed it or not."

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