Mazzilli, O's have spring in step

Manager eases through team's initial workout

`He ... exudes a winning attitude'

Mazzilli happy players have reported in shape

Orioles Spring Training

February 22, 2004|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - In the weeks leading up to yesterday's first spring workout, when Lee Mazzilli stood before the Orioles' pitchers and catchers for the first time as their manager, he often turned to his mentor, Joe Torre, for advice.

Mazzilli and Torre have known each other since they were teammates with the New York Mets in 1976. Mazzilli, who also played under Torre with the Mets, spent the previous four years coaching under him with the New York Yankees.

Considering all the success Torre has had as the Yankees' manager, the Orioles can't help but evoke his name when they point to Mazzilli's potential.

"I don't want to hear that stuff," Torre said jokingly yesterday from the Yankees' camp in Tampa, Fla. "If [the Orioles] get off to a tough start, I don't want that on my resume."

Then Torre gave an earnest answer about Mazzilli's potential.

"He's going to be good," Torre said. "He's going to go through all the same growing pains that we all did. But he did things the right way - managing in the minor leagues first - so I think he'll have a little more of a shortcut than I did."

Back in Fort Lauderdale, Mazzilli was easing through those initial growing pains. After his pitchers and catchers completed their morning physicals, he closed the clubhouse doors and addressed his club for the first time.

Mazzilli said he felt butterflies, but he laid out his expectations.

"All they need to do," he said, "is leave their hearts and their souls on the field. Not only for me, but for their teammates."

Mazzilli has established a few rules: no facial hair except for mustaches, no golf clubs allowed on team flights. He has shortened the team's spring workouts, starting them at 10 a.m. - one hour later than last year - but still ending around noon.

His players seem receptive.

"He just kind of exudes a winning attitude," said Orioles reliever Buddy Groom. "You can see it the way he talks to us. It's not a matter of, `Hopefully, we'll win.' We expect to win.

"But it's going to be a little more of a relaxed atmosphere. Come in a little later, make sure you get a good night's rest, get your work in and get out. He knows what it takes. You don't beat your guys up and kill them before the season begins."

Mazzilli said he was happy to see his players come into camp in shape. Orioles starting pitcher Sidney Ponson weighed in at 264 pounds, the same weight he finished at last season with the San Francisco Giants.

Ponson's listed playing weight on last year's roster was 249, and the Orioles have told him to make sure he's keeping it in check. Ponson, who signed a three-year, $22.5 million contract this offseason, was the first player in camp last weekend, and he is already ahead of schedule with about 10 bullpen sessions under his belt.

Mazzilli has been calling players into his office for one-on-one meetings, and he has already done this twice with Ponson.

"He seems like a straightforward guy, no bull," Ponson said. "It's great. I know I can go in there and just sit and talk to him."

After addressing the team, Mazzilli led everyone onto the practice fields. There was a stream of 25 pitchers, six catchers and 19 coaches clad in the pumpkin-like orange jerseys the Orioles wear for spring training.

And then there was Mazzilli clad in a black windbreaker, black hat and sunglasses. It was the same look the Orioles always saw former manager Mike Hargrove wear, except this was a younger, trimmer and sleeker version, to be sure.

The Orioles executed a brisk, two-hour workout with the pitchers changing stations from fielding drills to the bullpen to the practice mounds. After watching his pitchers throw, Mazzilli retreated into the dugout and sat comfortably next to Orioles vice presidents Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan.

"When he's around baseball players, he has a good way about him," Beattie said. "I think players relate to him well, and I think he's the type of guy who talks to players. You can see him out there on the field, interacting with players."

As the pitchers and catchers completed their running exercises, Mazzilli addressed the media.

"Other than coming up to the big leagues, for me, this is without a doubt, the best day I've had - the best day of my career," Mazzilli said.

Key Orioles dates

Tuesday: Position players report to spring camp in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Wednesday: First full-squad workout

March 4: Exhibition opener, vs. Marlins in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

April 3: Exhibition finale, vs. Reds in Chattanooga, Tenn.

April 4: Opening Day, vs. Red Sox at Camden Yards, 8:05 p.m.

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