FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Erik Bedard slips on his bright orange practice jersey, the one that looks like it was manufactured in a pumpkin patch, and grabs his glove before walking through the dugout tunnel that leads to the field. He blends in with the other Orioles pitchers, though not necessarily in the manner that he'd prefer.
The scar that runs along his left elbow grants him membership in a not-so-exclusive club. Bedard, a few weeks shy of his 24th birthday, had the same ligament-transplant surgery in September as Scott Erickson, Pat Hentgen, Matt Riley and Kerry Ligtenberg, to name a few. Even first baseman Jeff Conine underwent the procedure.
During his time in camp, which should be brief, Bedard can seek counsel from his support group. Riley is his roommate this spring. Erickson and Hentgen dress directly across from him in the clubhouse at Fort Lauderdale Stadium. Ligtenberg sits a few lockers down the row.
"Anything that happens, I ask Riley - how it's supposed to feel, when's it supposed to get better, when I can let it go? He tells me everything," Bedard said. "I talked to Hentgen, too. He said, `Follow everything they say and you'll be all right.' That's what he did."
Bedard won't be allowed to pitch until the fall instructional league and he has no desire to push for a minor-league assignment.
"That would be of no use to me," he said. "I'm young. I can come back in 2004 and pick it up again."
The Orioles have placed Bedard, their sixth-round draft pick in 1999, on a carefully monitored throwing program. It consists of 25 soft tosses from 45 feet every other day.
"It's going to be a slow process," he said, "but I'll get through it."
Bedard's injury occurred during the eighth inning of a June 26 game at Double-A Bowie. He went on the disabled list five days later, and the Orioles were hoping he could rehab and avoid surgery, but the pain persisted. Dr. James Andrews performed the operation in Birmingham, Ala.
"At first I thought, `Oh my God, it's over,' but the more you read about it, and everybody who came back, you feel more comfortable going through it," he said.
It was another health issue for an organization unable to keep its best pitching prospects on the mound, and it didn't come without controversy. Did manager Dave Cash and pitching coach Tom Burgmeier - both reassigned during the All-Star break - allow Bedard to exceed his pitch count and damage the farm system's brightest gem?
Bedard isn't placing any blame. He said the last pitch thrown, which brought searing pain to his elbow, put him at his limit of 100.
"I had been at 96. My first two batters, I threw two pitches. My last batter, I threw two pitches, the last one a fastball," he said. "That had nothing to do with it."
The Orioles will send Bedard to their minor-league complex in Sarasota, Fla., where he'll continue his program while staying close to Dave Walker, the former Triple-A trainer who recently was promoted to minor-league medical coordinator.
NOTES: Chris Richard and Izzy Molina hit back-to-back homers off John Stephens in yesterday's intrasquad game. Larry Bigbie hit a two-run, opposite-field homer off Travis Driskill. The pitchers were restricted to fastballs and changeups, which particularly affected Driskill and Erickson. ... Erickson has been bothered by the foot ailment plantar fasciitis, though he still has been able to pitch.