Nests feathered by arrival in town of rich, new flock

Signings: Incumbent players say Miguel Tejada, Rafael Palmeiro and Javy Lopez have brought the team production and professionalism.

April 02, 2004|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Orioles reliever Rick Bauer would sit in the bullpen during games last season, glance at the score and anticipate the outcome. He didn't use a mathematical formula or some other sophisticated system. The lineup provided all the evidence he needed.

Without guys like Miguel Tejada, Rafael Palmeiro and Javy Lopez in the middle, he had a pretty good idea the Orioles were going to stay behind. The size of the deficit wasn't important.

"If we got down by two runs in the fifth inning, it didn't look good at all. We almost had no shot," he said. "Now we can be down by five runs in the fifth or sixth inning, and all of a sudden, a walk and a bloop hit, and we have our guys coming up. We can come back and win. You're always in the game with guys like that on the team."

Mark down Bauer as a huge fan of the Orioles' winter shopping spree.

They purchased Tejada for $72 million over six years. They spent $22.5 million on Lopez over three years, and $4 million on Palmeiro for this season, with a $4.5 million option in 2005.

High dollars, but a bargain to their new teammates.

"I was pumped," said Bauer, who followed the moves from his offseason home in Erie, Pa. "I was hoping they'd sign the whole All-Star team. I was just sitting there waiting."

The haul netted 108 home runs from last season, with Lopez accounting for 43 - a record for a major league catcher in one season.

"We knew that they were going to get some players for the offseason. We didn't know who, but we figured they'd bring in some big bats," said left fielder Larry Bigbie, who might hit eighth on Opening Night after rising to third in September.

"There were a lot of names thrown out there. Miguel signed first, and it was definitely a huge pickup, to bring in a guy like that and help us win. We needed some improvement, especially to compete in this division. To bring three guys like that in here, with their winning backgrounds, you can learn a lot from them."

Offering more than numbers

Melvin Mora noted how Palmeiro counseled Single-A pitcher Daniel Cabrera on the mound after the young right-hander allowed a home run to the Florida Marlins' Miguel Cabrera. Other exchanges aren't as visible.

"He was telling him about the high fastball he threw," said Mora, who joined the conversation from third base. "He said, `You have a fastball that's 95, 93, and you threw the first one high and he didn't even catch up to it. The second time, you threw a slider and you're giving the guy a chance to hit the ball.'

"They're always trying to help the young guys. They make them feel comfortable on the team. It's not like because Raffy's going to be in the Hall of Fame, he doesn't talk to anybody. He talks to everyone. He treats everyone the same, so that makes you keep going. Everybody feels like family. It's a different team.

"When I make a great play, Raffy's screaming to me. When the pitcher makes a good pitch, Tejada says, `That's what I'm talking about.' That's the one thing we were looking for. We don't want quiet guys who don't say anything and don't stay on top of the young players."

Jack Cust, fighting for a roster spot in the final week of spring training, could have resented three high-profile players infiltrating the clubhouse while he's trying to make the team. He's out of minor league options, so this camp is especially important to his career, which has brought mostly disappointment since the Arizona Diamondbacks drafted him in the first round in 1997.

Raising the team's profile

So why is this guy so jazzed about the changed scenery? "I was excited, being able to play with guys of that caliber, superstars in the game. Anytime you can add players like that to your team, it's nice," he said.

"They're going to help this team win big-time. It's a lot better than not having them on your team."

Cust also has been impressed with how easily they blend with the other players. Meals are eaten at lockers often surrounded by teammates - some easily recognized, others who toil in low minor league obscurity. And don't expect to find any personal recliners at Camden Yards.

"They're all just really down to earth," Cust said. "They have a lot of accomplishments, but they seem to be real good guys. Javy's quiet, Raffy's quiet, but Tejada is a little more outgoing. He's crazy a little bit, but he keeps the guys loose. He's always rooting for guys in the dugout. He keeps it fun, keeps your mind at ease. You watch how he approaches the game and it makes you step back and look. It's refreshing."

"The biggest thing about Miguel," said second baseman Brian Roberts, "is he wants to win and he loves to be on the field. I think that rubs off on everybody."

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