Tejada swats doubts, homers in his O's arrival

Saying `team is not loser,' shortstop packs a wallop in and out of batting cage

Ripken fan brings streak of own

February 25, 2004|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Miguel Tejada arrived at Orioles camp yesterday, donned his orange and black uniform for the first time and made a bold proclamation: "This team is not a losing team anymore."

With Tejada, it seems, few things are done without passion.

Not even reporting to spring training.

Coming off six consecutive losing seasons, the Orioles will hold their first full-squad workout today, and Tejada wanted to get a jump on the proceedings after signing a six-year, $72 million contract in December.

Asked what attracted him to the Orioles after spending his first 10 professional seasons in the Oakland Athletics' organization, Tejada said, "There's a lot of history here. There's a lot of young players.

"And, by the way," he added, "I like the colors, too. [The uniform] makes me look better."

After politely answering a half-hour's worth of questions from the media, Tejada swatted a few home runs from the batting cage at Fort Lauderdale Stadium, and then walked up and down the chain-link fence behind home plate, signing autographs for a good 15 minutes.

"The only problem we may have with Miguel is trying to keep him back a little bit," said Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli. "That's the beauty of this kid. That's why you've gotta love him because he wants to play every day, every inning, all the time."

Tejada has played in 594 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the major leagues.

If he can keep the streak going over the length of his new contract, he will reach 1,566 games played. By that time he'll be 34, and he'll still have a long way to go to eclipse Cal Ripken's all-time record of 2,632 consecutive games played.

"I don't think anybody's going to break that record," Tejada said. "I know I've played all those games, but I'm not trying to break Cal Ripken's record."

But the thought of playing Ripken's old position for Ripken's old team? "For me," Tejada said, "this is like a dream come true."

As a former player himself, Mazzilli said he can't help but respect what Tejada has accomplished, playing in every Oakland regular-season game since May 31, 2000.

That being said, Mazzilli has a $72 million investment to help protect now, and it doesn't sound like he will hesitate to sit Tejada if he feels it has to be done.

"I would never jeopardize anybody's future for a streak," Mazzilli said.

As the past two years have shown, the streak doesn't seem to be affecting Tejada's late-season production. He hit .325 with 19 home runs and 72 RBIs after the All-Star break in 2002, carrying the A's into the postseason and claiming American League MVP honors.

Last year, after overcoming a rough April that saw him bat .161, Tejada hit .305 over the final 130 games and finished with 27 home runs and 106 RBIs.

Hoping to prevent another slow start from Tejada, Mazzilli hopes to make his new shortstop feel comfortable from the beginning.

"You come over to a new club, the thing you want to do is make sure you're not trying to do too much too early," Mazzilli said. "It's not like we don't know what he can do or what he's capable of. We all know that."

Tejada realizes the magnifying glass will be on him, but he also likes the fact the Orioles signed two other top free-agent sluggers in Rafael Palmeiro and Javy Lopez.

"I hope people understand that I'm not going to be the only one to go on the field," he said. "It's going to be nine guys."

When asked about giving hitting advice to the other young hitters in the Orioles' lineup, Tejada humbly deferred. "I think Palmeiro is the guy everybody is going to follow," Tejada said, "because I think he's going to be the big guy on the team."

And still, Tejada had a message for his new team yesterday, much like the message Mazzilli will try to instill today when he addresses his full squad for the first time.

Tejada went to the playoffs the past four years with Oakland, just as Mazzilli did as first base coach for the New York Yankees, and they say the time to start thinking about winning comes today.

For Tejada, it doesn't matter that he's coming to the American League East, a division that could be the toughest in baseball this season with the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox engaged in an all-out war and the Orioles, Toronto and Tampa Bay trying to catch them.

"By the way," Tejada said, "I've been in that situation before [in Oakland], when Seattle and Texas had those good teams. We worked hard, we had a young team, we were a losing team my first two years in Oakland, and after that we turned it around.

"I hope here, it's the same thing."

Key Orioles dates

Today: 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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