FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Ed Rogers' arrival at the Orioles' spring training camp became more than just a rumor yesterday.
No longer trapped in the Dominican Republic, Rogers obtained his work visa and flew into Fort Lauderdale on Wednesday. His plane touched down at 3:15 p.m. He then took a cab to the team hotel and slept.
The Orioles would like to put all the controversy to rest.
Rogers left the United States as a 20-year-old shortstop prospect. He returned as a 23-year-old shortstop prospect, making the Orioles wonder if his exile in the Dominican was self-imposed, if he could have done something to accelerate the process and join the team closer to the Feb. 19 reporting date for position players.
"I don't know any particulars about what's been going on. I don't know that he had any choice in the matter," said manager Mike Hargrove.
"Certainly if he did things to drag this out, I would be upset with that. But if he really had no control other than waiting for the papers to clear, there's no reason to get upset. It's just a process that has to take place."
Rogers, the Orioles' fifth-rated prospect according to Baseball America, indicated that the delays were unavoidable.
"I went to the consulate and they told me, `You better come here two or three times more,' " he said. "They told me, `Come in tomorrow.' I come in tomorrow and they tell me, `No, you have to come in two more days again.' There were too many people in the consulate with the same problem. The team tried to help us, but the problem was with the consulate."
Rogers also removed any doubts about his age when he said, "I'm not 20, I'm 23 now."
Wearing a long-sleeved sweater and jeans, Rogers sat in the dugout as the Orioles took batting practice. He scanned the field. Spotting Tim Raines Jr., Rogers extended his hand and asked about the outfielder's father, who spent the last week of the 2001 season with the Orioles.
"He's with the Marlins now," Raines said.
Rogers took his physical after meeting with Syd Thrift, the Orioles' vice president for baseball operations. He's expected to be in uniform today.
Relaying part of their conversation, Thrift said, "He told me, `I'm three years older.' I don't know who did it, whether he did it or his father did it or what. He said, `I'm sorry.' I said, `Go get yourself in gear. Go play baseball.' "
Hargrove won't have much trouble finding room for him. Brian Roberts is shut down indefinitely and might need surgery. Eddy Garabito, who would have contended for a utility job, remains in the Dominican after failing to produce a birth certificate. And Howie Clark can't play because of a sore quadriceps muscle.
"We've got to give [Rogers] some days to get back in the swing of things," Hargrove said. "I don't know that I can sit here and tell you, `Hopefully within the next three to five days he'll be ready to go' and be perfectly serious about that. It may be longer than that, it may be shorter than that.
"I don't know if you can put a time frame on it."
Rogers said he has been working out two to three times a week in the Dominican, though finding partners became more difficult when his friends left the country. He received 100 at-bats with Estrellas during the winter-league season, batting .250.
Asked how long it would take to get ready for a game, he said, "Maybe one day, maybe two days. I might go to home plate and get a line drive."
The Orioles dispute the notion that the age revelation has lowered Rogers' status within the organization. Rogers doesn't disagree.
"I just have to play baseball. I have to come in here and do my work. I believe nothing happened to my skills, so I don't have a problem with that," he said.
"If I make it at 25, I want to play 12, 15 years in the big leagues. That's what I want. Some look for 10 years. I'm looking for 12 or 15."
"I think this year is going to be the best year of my life in baseball."
Meanwhile, Roberts walked across the parking lot toward the Orioles' clubhouse yesterday morning with a large envelope in one hand that had the letters "MRI" stamped across it.
Roberts underwent his second magnetic resonance imaging test on his right elbow, and the Orioles still are deliberating whether he needs surgery to remove bone fragments, which could cost him about two months.