Surhoff waits on O's after workouts

Repaired knee looks fine, but free agent seeks more than spring invite


February 01, 2003|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

With their three-day evaluation of B.J. Surhoff complete, the Orioles will make further contact with him early next week while attempting to negotiate a deal that could bring the popular outfielder to Baltimore for a 17th major-league season.

Surhoff, 38, had his surgically repaired right knee examined at Camden Yards yesterday by the Orioles' training staff, which wanted to see how it responded to Wednesday's workout. Surhoff also hit in the indoor batting cage before returning to his Cockeysville home.

"I feel good," he said. "My activity level has really picked up in the last month. Since the time I got hurt, I've just been rehabbing and working out to try to get back out on the field."

Surhoff, who played for the Orioles from 1996 to July 2000, appeared in only 25 games with the Atlanta Braves last season before tearing his anterior cruciate ligament. He underwent reconstructive surgery on May 15, but he's confident enough in his recovery to engage in competitive basketball games in Cal Ripken's gymnasium.

"That's probably the most rigorous thing I can do without getting out on the field," he said.

The Orioles checked on Surhoff's knee Monday, but the weather didn't permit him to head outdoors for some baseball-related drills until two days later. He moved freely and without discomfort yesterday as executives Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan paid close attention.

"It was really for the training staff to see where he was physically. It's not like he had to impress us. We know what B.J.'s about. We know his track record," Flanagan said.

"We kicked some ideas around and we'll see where both sides are Monday or Tuesday, if it's doable."

Because of a cramped 40-man roster, the Orioles most likely would offer a minor-league contract with a spring training invitation. Surhoff is seeking a guaranteed deal, but as time passes, it becomes more difficult to obtain one.

"Either way, I'm going to have to be in camp, and they're going to find out if I can endure the rigors of playing. That's going to be the question I deal with no matter where I go," he said.

"I'm not a big believer in guys who have been around a while making teams out of spring training. For a young kid, it's a little bit different, but it's more important for me to focus on April 1 vs. March 1. I'm looking to play. That's my first choice. Right at the moment I'm not looking to be a bench player. I've always felt that the more I play, the better I play."

Surhoff gave a tearful speech during his news conference at Camden Yards after the Orioles traded him to the Braves for three players. He never wanted to leave Baltimore as part of former vice president Syd Thrift's salary purge, but he also won't accept just any offer to return.

"I'm not going to jump just because they invite me to spring training. On Jan. 31, that's not where my mind-set is," he said. "I'm looking for the best opportunity that incorporates everything that has to do with my career and my family situation. Now I've played away from home. I know how to deal with it a lot better. But it's not my first choice.

"I live here because I like it here and I love playing here, but they have to try to figure out whether I'm a fit for them. I don't think at this point that it would be beneficial for me to be trying to make a team as an invited person at spring training. I would hope teams would do more homework than that. I know they've done their homework medically. And obviously I know Flanny and I know some of the coaches. It hasn't been that long since I've been here."

Surhoff appeared in 162 games in consecutive seasons with the Orioles, batting .308 with 28 homers and 107 RBIs in 1999. Before he can return to their lineup, the Orioles need to lessen the glut of outfielders and first basemen on their roster.

"I made it pretty clear how I felt about playing here," he said. "That being said, it's a little bit easier this time around. I've adjusted to not being here, but it still would be a good fit for me. They have to figure out whether it would be a good fit for them."

Surhoff was hitting .293 in 75 at-bats before the injury. The Braves were using him in right field and at first base.

"I feel very good about my skill level," he said. "I hurt my knee, not my hands or my eyes or my arm. I still feel pretty good about what I can do and what I have to offer. It's just a matter of getting out on the field and doing it."

It's apparent that Surhoff has done his homework regarding the ACL tear. Noting that it's "a pretty common injury these days," he rattled off the names of athletes in other sports - including Ravens running back Jamal Lewis - who made complete recoveries.

"I feel good about where I am based on what I had done," he said. "I'm as strong as I've ever been and I don't think my skills have diminished. I feel like I've got plenty left."

NOTES: Outfielder Tim Raines Jr. cleared waivers and was outrighted to Triple-A Ottawa. ... Former Orioles public relations director Bob Brown has been voted the Herb Armstrong Award for distinguished service by non-uniformed Orioles personnel. Brown will receive his award on Sept. 6, at the same time Cal Ripken is inducted into the Orioles' Hall of Fame in pre-game ceremonies sponsored by the Oriole Advocates.

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