STAFFThey might be homers: Rookie...

ELIZABETH MALBY : SUN

April 03, 2001

ELIZABETH MALBY : SUN STAFFThey might be homers: Rookie infielder Jay Gibbons hit solidly - in batting practice. He never got into the Opening Day game.

The Rookie

In his first Big League Opening Day, Orioles infielder Jay Gibbons belted five balls out of the park, one of them coming tantalizingly close to a rendezvous with the warehouse. An appreciative crowd oohed and ahed.

OK, it was only batting practice. But this was a major league ballpark -and for now, that was accomplishment enough. After all, Gibbons knows exactly where he was for last year's opener: in South Carolina playing first base against the Braves. The Greenville Braves. Double A ball.

Now Gibbons, a 24-year-old with arms like steel pipes, never doubted his ability to crush a baseball. But even he didn't see himself jumping from the Tennessee Smokies to a big league roster this soon. "I didn't expect to be in the majors now," he said in the clubhouse before the Orioles took the field against the Red Sox.

Outside, more than 45,000 people sat, wondering if they could place their hopes in youngsters like Gibbons. "I'm trying to stay relaxed," he said. "It's hard not to feel a little jittery, but I'm going to try to enjoy this."

As a reserve first baseman, Gibbons knew the chances were against his getting an at-bat against Pedro Martinez - he wanted to - but as the game headed into extra innings, he began loosening up. As it turned out, Brady Anderson's RBI in the 11th made Gibbons' services unnecessary.

"I wanted to get that first at-bat out of the way," Gibbons said after the game. "I wanted to hit."

If Opening Day batting practice is any gauge, he will. -- Michael Ollove

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