For Gomez, wearing orange is a good fit

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Infielder glad to be back with O's after Rule 5 issue

Baseball

February 25, 2005|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Chris Gomez could be forgiven yesterday for glancing down at his orange Orioles practice jersey, just to make sure which team would be signing his paycheck this year.

He was an Oriole after signing a minor league contract on Dec. 9, a Philadelphia Phillie after being claimed in the Rule 5 draft on Dec. 13, and an Oriole again after being sold to them on Dec. 20.

It was a crazy timeline -- and an embarrassing one for the Orioles, who hadn't protected him. They've put him on the 40-man roster, and he's expected to replace Luis Lopez as the team's utility infielder.

"It was pretty bizarre," Gomez said before yesterday's workout.

"I was signed by Baltimore, and four or five days later I got a call from the GM of the Phillies. I thought it was a mistake or something. I didn't even realize I was eligible for the Rule 5 draft.

But I just rolled with it."

The Orioles paid $12,500 to purchase Gomez from the Phillies, who shelled out the same amount of cash to claim him.

"After the shock wore off," Gomez said, "I had to get accustomed to being a Phillie."

Not for long.

The Phillies wanted Gomez in case infielder Placido Polanco left as a free agent. But Polanco surprised the club by accepting arbitration, and Gomez no longer fit into its plans.

"Now I'm back here where I feel I belong," he said. "I don't know what's going on with the Philadelphia situation. That would have been a fine situation. But everything worked out well. I think we have a good team. Baltimore is a great city, it's a great stadium. It's exciting to play in the American League East."

Gomez batted .282 in 109 games with the Toronto Blue Jays last season. His brief stint as a Phillie probably felt natural, since he's always on the move.

He broke into the majors with the Detroit Tigers in 1993, and also has played for San Diego, Tampa Bay and Minnesota. The Orioles represent his sixth team.

A former third-round draft pick, Gomez hopes the Orioles are his last stop. "But I say that everywhere I start. It just hasn't been working out," he said.

"I'd love to retire as an Oriole and quit bouncing around," he said. "When I first came into the league, I'd look at guys like Alan Trammell and George Brett, guys who stayed in the same organization, and I thought how great that would be. And now I'm bouncing all over the place."

Gomez gives the Orioles some flexibility on their bench. He can play every infield position, having made 69 starts at shortstop last year, 12 at first base, four at third and three at second.

"I think I'll have to be ready at several positions," he said. "I have to be ready whenever I get the chance. As it looks, playing time is going to be tough to get, but I'll work hard to stay ready because you never know what can happen."

Mazzilli meets with players

Manager Lee Mazzilli held a pre-workout meeting in the Orioles' clubhouse, in which he stressed to his players the importance of "having their own identity."

"I want them to show their personalities on the field, and do what they do best," he said.

"That's just going to help the team chemistry," outfielder Larry Bigbie said. "He wants everybody to play relaxed, knowing we're going into New York and Boston with a team we can win with. Don't go in there looking to just play with them and hang around. Go out there relaxed and be ourselves. Have fun and play our game."

The fans who gathered for yesterday's first full-squad workout broke into applause when Mazzilli stepped onto the field, and the excitement carried over as Sammy Sosa crushed baseballs into the overcast sky.

"I told Sammy I got more [applause] than he did," Mazzilli said, grinning, "and he got mad."

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