Missing ingredients can't spoil Mazzilli's appetite

February 24, 2004|By LAURA VECSEY

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - No Miguel Tejada. Yet.

No Rafael Palmeiro.

No B.J. Surhoff to anchor one corner of the clubhouse with cool, veteran presence.

No Mark McLemore to remind everyone, even in spring, it's all about winning the ring.

Gee, not even David Segui is in camp yet to update us - again - on how his wrist feels and how he hopes to play at least 90 games this season, unless the Orioles can talk him into going on the disabled list so insurance can eat some of that $7 million contract.

Heck, even Sidney Ponson, already installed as Opening Day (night) starter against Pedro Martinez (unless it's Curt Schilling) and the Red Sox, was not in camp yesterday. He was trying to secure his visa.

Don't Aruban knights get special privileges? Someone call the queen.

Hopefully, Sir Sid is back in time this morning to fetch coffee for Lee Mazzilli. E-1 equals coffee for the manager.

Actually, a coffee and a bagel is what Mazzilli requested. A real New Yorker does not toast a bagel, although Mazzilli showed no signs of Yankees pinstripes yesterday, no allegiance to the Evil Empire or obsession with what's going on in Tampa.

"I heard a little something about that," Mazzilli said slyly when asked about the Alex Rodriguez trade.

Mazzilli could not be drawn into any kibitzing about the $190 million juggernaut at the top of the American League East or the war with Boston, other than to confess that he, too, might have stuck with Martinez in Game 7 of the AL Championship Series.

"If you pull him, you're sitting there on the bench saying, `I just took the best pitcher in baseball out of the game,' " he said.

In other words, even in the early dawn of spring camp, it's not too early for Mazzilli to visualize what he would do in a critical game situation.

We should only be so lucky that this kind of issue confronts Mazzilli anytime soon. However, it's good to know he's prepared - unless you think Grady Little should have pulled Martinez.

It's probably a good thing Mazzilli didn't get the Boston job.

Otherwise, he was far more concerned about today's breakfast than the Red Sox or Yankees and what they do to beat each other up.

"What's to worry about? So they pulled off the trade when others couldn't. I've got my new kids to worry about," Mazzilli said about the Orioles.

That includes Sir Sid, ace of the Orioles' young staff with a heap of responsibility on those big, burly shoulders.

Hopefully, Ponson leaves Mazzilli's bagel alone.

If his ERA this season remotely matches his reporting weight (264/2.64), a year's worth of bagels are on us.

It tells you something about where the Orioles are so far in early camp that Rick Dempsey made the play of the day yesterday. Sprinting across the infield, the former World Series Most Valuable Player lunged for and snagged a monster pop fly - much to the shame of every Orioles catcher participating in the drill who wasn't Javy Lopez.

Robert Machado and Geronimo Gil appear to have work to do. Lopez looks solid.

So did Dempsey, who rallied the small crowd (mostly Lopez lovers down from Atlanta) to cheer for Dempsey's back-breaking, one-handed grab.

"Looks like you'll need a massage tonight," a fan yelled.

Dempsey deserves a massage - of his bruised ego, courtesy of intemperate and knuckle-headed journalists, like myself, who this winter echoed industry rumors about Dempsey's chances for being hired as manager of the Orioles. "He was a serious candidate," club vice president Jim Beattie said.

Dempsey lost his bid to be manager of the Orioles, but it sure looks as if he could effectively back up Lopez this season, if Lopez can only play about 100 games behind the plate.

Apparently, unlike Mike Piazza, Lopez, 33, is eager to rest those aching knees. He has mentioned about six positions he wouldn't mind playing this season, which might include middle relief.

Watch out, Omar Daal. There's competition from Lopez for mop-up duty if you can't crack the rotation. When will Adam Loewen be ready?

Maybe not signing Ivan Rodriguez to platoon with Lopez behind the plate and at DH wasn't such a good move. Maybe the two-catcher method would have been incredible insurance.

Who am I kidding?

Have fun in Detroit, Pudge. You got your $40 million - we think.

So did Jay Gibbons get his money. This much we know for sure.

The Orioles signed Gibbons to a one-year, $2.6 million deal and yesterday it appeared as if he splurged some of his major league dough on a beautiful, charcoal Mercedes coupe.

He deserved it after yo-yoing his brain all winter: "If they get Vladdy, I go to first. Now we've got Raffy, I stay in right. I'm buying some new wheels."

Or maybe the Mercedes is payoff from Palmeiro to Gibbons for giving up No. 25.

By the way, Gibbons looks good in No. 31, the inversion of Alex Rodriguez's new number. Guess A-Rod didn't have enough money to pay Babe Ruth's estate or the Yankees for his old No. 3.

Wait a minute: The phrases "A-Rod" and "not enough money" in the same sentence?

Quick: Who boots more balls at third this year, Melvin Mora or Rodriguez?

The answer? McLemore, if the Mora experiment fails.

Maybe, like Mazzilli, who refused to comment on whether Rodriguez is more dangerous on the Yankees than he would have been on the Red Sox, we should all adopt a "No A-Rod/No Yankees Zone."

"I've learned a few things about this game," Mazzilli said.

Right. Good point. Now where's Tejada? Jerry Hairston wants to start working on the double play.

Or is that Brian Roberts?

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