Hope for a new spin when Sosa rolls in

February 23, 2005|By Laura Vecsey

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Sammy Sosa reports today. It's big enough news that the Orioles sent out a release.

"There will be a lot more people here than you six guys," Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli said in the dugout yesterday, smiling at the small contingent of regular beat reporters.

And forget the Chicago media and the national media that will descend upon Orioles camp. Those "a lot more people" Mazzilli spoke of will just be the people inside Sosa's limo.

Unless, of course, Sosa takes this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to start downsizing his larger-than-life image.

Yesterday, volunteers lined up inside Orioles camp. Amateur chauffeurs and improperly licensed livery drivers were eager to help Sosa make a really good impression.

Forget the black stretch limo, which is what Sosa requested the Orioles send for him at Baltimore-Washington International Airport earlier this month, when he made his Baltimore debut.

For this round of the Sosa Career and Image-Reclamation Project, the beleaguered slugger needs a far more humble set of wheels.

We're talking a Yugo. Or maybe a Plymouth Horizon, preferably a "vintage" 1989 model, one with a spark-shooting muffler dragging along Oriole Way, raising a sandstorm outside Fort Lauderdale Stadium.

Imagine that entrance!

Kiss, kiss. Thump, thump. Now help that happy, happy new Oriole get out of that Mini Cooper, will you!

"You just let it happen," Mazzilli said about the initial circus that will accompany Sosa to Orioles camp.

Still, let's hope this is a limo-free zone - for Sosa's sake.

The former spring home of the Yankees, Fort Lauderdale Stadium has seen its share of divas and superstars make their grand February appearances: Reggie Jackson, Dave Winfield, Rickey Henderson, Thurman Munson - who once told a future Sun columnist (I was about 8 at the time, collecting bottle caps and autographs in the parking lot) to come back and see him in 10 years. Munson never made it.

Stars definitely rule in the early days of spring. They come to camp with the intent to make a splash, to impress the world - and teammates.

Often that means cruising up to the clubhouse door in the biggest, whitest Mercedes (Alex Rodriguez) or a fire-engine-red, bottom-scraping Lamborghini (Ken Griffey Jr.) or a Suburban SUV with super-sized wheels (Randy Johnson).

But we're not used to this kind of Norma Desmond/Ready For My Close-Up kind of entrance.

Given the state of the Orioles the past seven seasons, especially since Cal Ripken took his Chevy truck and retired, spring camp has suffered a significant, parching star drought.

Unless you count Jack Cust - and, oh, there were a few frightening minor league moments when, embarrassed to admit it, we resorted to profiles and hopeful speculation about Cust.

Those days are over. Thanks to the disgusted Cubs, the smashed boom box and the feud with Dusty Baker, Sosa has made the microscopically incremental successes and failures of "prospects" like Cust a thing of the past.

With Sosa and his quest for 600 homers set to appear at Orioles camp, what else matters?

Today's scheduled event is baseball's version of Hollywood's red carpet. Sosa's reporting day has everything Oscar's night has (cameras, reporters, anticipation) except Joan and Melissa Rivers.

That doesn't mean people, including his new teammates, aren't super eager to lay their eyes on the Orioles' new No. 3 hitter.

"Or 4 or 5," Mazzilli said, depending.

"I've worked on about 20 different lineups. I'll sit down with Sammy and talk about that. It gives me a lot of options. The important thing is to stay healthy," the manager said.

That means no sneezing, among other activities the Orioles sophomore manager will ban - like clubhouse music.

Mazzilli said he isn't concerned about the distraction and disruption Sosa could cause. He's excited about it and thinks the other players are eager to see the Sosa Show, too.

"It gives you a little different kind of atmosphere, that kind of All-Star attitude. A lot of these players haven't had that around. But you have to separate the star atmosphere from playing the game. It will be a little overwhelming, initially," Mazzilli said.

Overwhelming because no one knows what to expect - and we're not talking about what kind of numbers Sosa will put up in Camden Yards, with a one-year deal and a Hall of Fame career to bolster.

Oh, no. There are far more immediate questions, like:

What will Sammy wear? What will he say? What will he want? What will he drive?

(If he's smart, he's driving anything in a four cylinder.)

What music will Sosa's car stereo blare? How dark will the tinted windows be in his luxury vehicle? In which ear will he wear his cell phone earpiece? How many cell calls will he take and/or make during the 17-yard walk from the parking lot to the clubhouse?

Where will he get to park? Next to Mike Flanagan's convertible or over near Sidney Ponson's black Mercedes, the one he loaded down with all that soul-cleansing bottled water?

How many hugs will Sammy administer to men who've never met him before?

How many times will he correct himself from saying "me" by insisting, "There's no `I' in Sammy?"

How many lockers will he get? Two or three?

How many pairs of orange-and-black cleats will be lined up on the floor in front of his locker(s)?

Will any red-and-blue wristbands or socks be sent, by mistake?

Answers arrive today. Hopefully, not in a limo.

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