Orioles play on, but war in mind

Hargrove has a niece, cousin fighting Hussein

Between lines, `it's off our minds'

Clubhouse TV is turned from basketball to Iraq

March 22, 2003|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Orioles manager Mike Hargrove has a niece serving in the Army over in Kuwait and a cousin working in Special Operations somewhere in this war - Hargrove isn't sure where; he's not supposed to know where because it's top secret.

In his office at Fort Lauderdale Stadium, Hargrove keeps his television tuned to war coverage while he does his work. He has charts on the walls documenting the progress of the pitchers and hitters, and he also tracks the war effort, with his thoughts never far from his niece, Katy Nicole Hargrove, and cousin, Courtney McLain.

"You've got to go on with your daily life," Hargrove said before yesterday's 4-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. "It doesn't mean that you don't think about what's going on and pray for those guys and gals who are over there. It's still on your mind, but you've got to go on with your business."

In most ways, the Orioles are like any other American civilians right now, trying to move forward with their lives at a time when their thoughts are half-a-world away.

The war caused Major League Baseball to scrap plans to have the Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics open the season with a two-game series in Tokyo next week. Other than that, teams are proceeding as usual.

There are added security concerns at the ballparks, much as there were following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The Orioles begin their regular season March 31, against the Cleveland Indians at Camden Yards.

"I wouldn't say you get used to it, but in your mind you know how to react to it," said Orioles first baseman Jeff Conine. "We're all concerned, and we're all watching it, but between the lines, it's off our minds. We've got to concentrate on business."

These are the dog days of spring, with most of the players feeling prepared to start the season and eager for Opening Day. The Orioles have kept their spring training tradition of organizing an NCAA men's basketball pool, and a giant bracket is pasted to the wall.

Normally, at this time of year, the clubhouse television shows nothing but basketball games. Yesterday, as the bombing intensified in Iraq, the television stayed on CNN.

"It's quiet in here," Orioles pitcher Travis Driskill said. "But I think we're pretty confident we're going to do the job" in Iraq.

Orioles pitcher Rick Helling, who has followed the developments closely, said it bothers him to see people criticizing the war effort.

"We don't want to risk lives unnecessarily," Helling said, "but the people making these decisions obviously know more than the civilians or anybody outside the situation knows. They know the dangers Saddam Hussein poses to us.

"I understand not everyone is going to agree or be on the same page, but what the people over there need is our support. They don't need to hear that the American public doesn't agree with it. What matters now is they're over there trying to preserve our way of life."

Helling paused, comparing a day at spring training with a day in a bunker, fighting a war.

"It definitely puts your life into perspective," Helling said. "At the same token, you still have to live your life. We play baseball for a living. That's what we're going to keep doing."

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