Sorry, O's fans, if Teixeira is moving, it's to first

ON BASEBALL

Baseball

March 02, 2003|By Peter Schmuck

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Orioles fans can stop dreaming. The Texas Rangers wouldn't even consider sending minor-league phenom Mark Teixeira home to play for the Orioles.

That pipe dream was articulated repeatedly by talk show callers over the winter, based on the false notion that the Rangers would have to make a choice between Teixeira and the club's other impressive third base prospect, Hank Blalock. Instead, the former Mount St. Joseph High star apparently will move to first base - perhaps cracking the starting lineup next year - giving the club a very bright future at both corner infield positions.

General manager John Hart declined to pursue trade talks this winter with the Montreal Expos, who were shopping marquee starting pitchers Bartolo Colon and Javier Vasquez. Hart also steered clear of the budget-conscious Kansas City Royals, who were known to be interested in moving outfielder Carlos Beltran for young talent.

Hart knew what the Rangers would have to give up to acquire veteran players of that quality, and he wouldn't even allow himself to be tempted. "We are not trading the young guys," Hart said. "No way, no how. You can take that to the bank. We haven't yet and we're not going to."

Obviously, Hart knows what he's got, and he's trying to replicate the success he had building a winner in Cleveland in the early 1990s. It's amazing what you can do with a little patience and a lot of good young talent.

Scary thought

It cannot be comforting to opposing hitters that fourpeat Cy Young Award winner Randy Johnson still thinks that he can get better. The guy is either middle-age crazy or he is going to be an even more frightening presence on the mound this year.

The Big Unit spent part of the offseason working with pitching consultant Tom House, who helped him make mechanical adjustments that could make him tougher to hit in 2003.

House, who helped Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan maintain tremendous velocity well into his 40s, persuaded Johnson to alter his delivery so that he releases the ball about 6 inches closer to the batter than before. Because Johnson is the tallest pitcher in major-league history at 6 feet 10, he already looks like he's about 40 feet away from home plate. Now, hitters are going to feel like he's trying to slap them on his follow-through.

Johnson may be pushing 40, but he still thinks he has a lot of baseball left in his amazing left arm. "I think I'm very capable of pitching this year and at least a couple of years beyond this year," he said. "As long as the fire in me is still burning - which it is - I will continue to go out there and be on the mission that I've been on for some time."

Bonus Big Unit fact: If Johnson wins his fifth straight Cy Young Award this year, he would become the oldest Cy Young winner in baseball history - surpassing Gaylord Perry by a matter of days.

Sign of the times

The Orioles aren't the only major-league team that believes it has to do more to reach out to fans. The Arizona Diamondbacks, little more than a year removed from their first World Series title, announced that they will require all players - except the starting pitcher - to sign autographs for 10 minutes before each home night game in 2003.

Historic shift?

Byung-Hyun Kim, the Diamondbacks' closer for the past three years, is trying to earn the final slot in the club's starting rotation this spring. Cincinnati Reds right-hander Danny Graves also is trying to make the shift from closer to starter.

Each has a chance to become the first pitcher to make 20 or more major-league starts after saving 30 or more games the season before.

All-purpose pitcher Rick Aguilera came the closest, saving 32 games for the Minnesota Twins and Boston Red Sox in 1995 and starting 19 games for the Twins in '96.

Clearing the air

Chicago White Sox star Frank Thomas wants 2003 to be a fresh start, but he had to take care of some old business before he could move forward. He needed to clear the air with teammate Paul Konerko, who publicly criticized him for showing lack of interest in the team last season.

The two finally spoke on Monday during infield practice and apparently let bygones be bygones.

"I don't even remember who initiated it," Konerko said. "It wasn't like it was some debate or formal talk. It was like two guys shooting the breeze. We both said, `Let's get past this and start playing ball.'

"I understand and he understands that this team is bigger than the both of us. At this point, it's so meaningless because it was so long ago. I never imagined that I would be answering questions about this coming into the spring. I thought it was done."

Failure to communicate

Major League Baseball executive vice president Sandy Alderson ruffled some feathers when he suggested during a sports economics seminar at Vanderbilt University that the Rangers had become more budget-conscious because owner Tom Hicks had made some "lousy" investments in telecommunications.

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