Colorful Segui bird of different feather

Orioles: With bleached hair and painted nails, David Segui tattoos his arms as well as the ball. But the free-spirited first baseman is quick to add, `I'm not some weirdo.'

May 22, 2001|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Orioles first baseman David Segui doesn't worry about the various perceptions of him, often misguided, coming from people who make judgments based on appearance alone. His life is his business. If he wants to bleach his hair blond, so what? If he chooses to paint his fingernails black, have the faces of his two young children tattooed on his arms and ride the streets on one of his motorcycles, that's fine, too.

"It's all just for show," he says while on full display in the clubhouse before a recent game. "I'm not some weirdo."

Privately, some teammates might disagree, though they'd do it with the same humor that Segui has brought to the club since signing as a free agent in December and returning to the organization that introduced him to the majors 11 years ago.

Back then, Segui was recognized more for his artistry with the glove and the singles and doubles his bat produced. He didn't have the muscular build that's developed over the years, the strength to reach the seats from home plate that's made him a more dangerous hitter.

If he did, Segui might never have been traded to the New York Mets in March 1994, after the Orioles signed Rafael Palmeiro to a five-year contract because they sought more power at the position. Segui has hit 107 of his 122 home runs since that transaction unfolded. The .334 average and 103 RBIs he accumulated last season, split between Texas and Cleveland, were career highs.

The Orioles, who needed either protection for Albert Belle in the lineup or a run-producing replacement, targeted Segui. He agreed to a four-year deal, fulfilling a long-standing desire to come back to Baltimore and reuniting him with close friend Brady Anderson.

"I wanted to play on the same team as Brady again," he says while sitting in front of a locker that's separated from Anderson's by one unoccupied space. "I enjoyed the times I played here. It's a beautiful ballpark. It's a nice stadium to hit in - until they moved the fences back. Figures."

Segui, 34, has been playing more than first base with the Orioles this season. He's also been playing catch-up ever since a pulled hamstring began costing him games in spring training. A stretch of seven hits in 12 at-bats during a series in Tampa last month raised his average from .167 to .271, just in time for Devil Rays shortstop Felix Martinez to step on his left hand while turning a double play on April 22 and putting Segui on the disabled list.

"It's slowly getting better," says Segui, who was activated last Tuesday and rapped a two-run double on the first pitch thrown to him. "It's one of those things you live with and play with. There's always something hurting somewhere on everybody in here. Nobody's 100 percent."

Segui missed almost three weeks of spring training because of the leg. He walked into the season without the limp, but also not ready to make much of a contribution offensively. He started off 2-for-18.

"The hamstring hurt me because it didn't allow me to get game-ready," he says. "It pushed everything back and compounded problems with my swing and timing. But I don't know how I could have prevented that. I pulled it slipping in a hole [in a base-running drill]. There's not much you can do."

Don't bother offering Segui any excuses, even the convenient ones, about being exposed within a lineup lacking the same proven hitters that surrounded him in Texas, Cleveland, Seattle and Toronto. He was batting fourth with the Orioles before the hand injury, ahead of players like Chris Richard, Jeff Conine and rookie Jay Gibbons.

"I don't believe in that protection thing," Segui says. "That's a handy excuse for guys who aren't hitting. If I'm not hitting, it's usually not anybody else's fault."

Segui notices Conine dressing at the next locker and takes aim. "Sometimes, it's Jeff's fault."

"I take full responsibility," Conine replies.

The Orioles begin a two-game series with the Anaheim Angels tonight. Segui most likely will bat fifth, with a .239 average that's 53 points below his career total. He's homered once, off Tampa Bay reliever Rusty Meacham, two days before Martinez's spikes sliced a tendon in Segui's hand.

"Hopefully, all these injuries are in the past," he says. "Maybe I've gotten them out of the way, and I can get rolling again."

Segui says he will wind down to a stop once his deal expires in 2004, no matter how he's hitting. The contract with the Orioles will be his last, says Segui, whose father, Diego, pitched 15 years in the majors. Baseball has done many things for Segui, but it can't fill all the empty spaces inside a divorced father. Segui wants the faces of his son and daughter to be more than outlines in ink.

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