Batista is chosen as Orioles' lone star

Torre picks third baseman to be reserve on AL team

July 01, 2002|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

One year after the Toronto Blue Jays decided they no longer cared for third baseman Tony Batista, the American League's All-Star manager wouldn't leave home without him.

Batista will serve as the Orioles' lone representative for the July 9 All-Star Game in Milwaukee. He'll join the group of reserves chosen by New York Yankees manager Joe Torre, at a position occupied so frequently by Cal Ripken before his retirement last year opened the competition there.

"Tony certainly deserves that," said Orioles manager Mike Hargrove. "Tony's had a good year for us so far, and he's one of the visible team leaders that we have. It's good to see good things happen to good people."

His career took a bad turn in 2001. Despite hitting 41 homers and making his first All-Star appearance the previous year, Batista was placed on waivers in June with his average at .207 and the Orioles visiting SkyDome. They claimed the Dominican native for $25,000 and watched him bat .266 with 12 homers and 42 RBIs in 84 games.

Batista heads to Anaheim tomorrow batting .276 and leading the Orioles with 18 homers and 50 RBIs. He connected yesterday off Philadelphia starter Robert Person, using his exaggerated open stance to pull an inside fastball.

"I feel very good," Batista said. "I've been working hard. I'm happy that they see what I've been doing."

The subject of intense media focus this spring, Batista has demonstrated the right temperament to handle the attention that comes from replacing Ripken.

"Tony keeps this team loose and he's fun to watch," said reliever Chris Brock. "We're happy for him."

That includes reliever Buddy Groom, another strong candidate with a 2.03 ERA and 21 of 26 inherited runners stranded. Torre also bypassed starters Rodrigo Lopez and Travis Driskill, who are a combined 11-4.

"I didn't expect it," Groom said. "That's part of the reason, because I'm a middle reliever. It's usually starters and closers."

Batista's importance to the lineup has increased with injuries to run producers David Segui and Jeff Conine. "I just try to go in and play my game," he said.

"Tony's carried our team," Groom said, "and he deserves to go."

His destination seems a long way from the first half of the 2001 season, when the Orioles decided Batista was worth a look while trying to locate Ripken's successor.

"We got him thinking he was a good player and we could get him back to where he once was," Hargrove said.

"He's a hard worker. There are some things we did offensively and defensively to help him out, and he's been very coachable in taking those suggestions. And so far, they're working."

Clubhouse wit Sidney Ponson used Batista's selection to poke a little fun at the host city. "He's going to Milwaukee and I'm not," said Ponson, "so two good things happen right there."

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