The joke's on Sosa, and he's loving it

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Mazzilli orchestrates gag on slugger as practice ends

Baseball

February 27, 2005|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - If Sammy Sosa had any doubts about how he would be accepted by his Orioles teammates, they ended yesterday when he became the victim of a practical joke at the conclusion of workouts.

Assuming that he was leading a base-running drill, Sosa took off for first base with his head down and his legs pumping. It wasn't until he reached second that he noticed the other players either gathered at home plate or walking toward the dugout, their laughter filling the air.

Practice was over. Sosa just happened to be the last Oriole to notice.

"At least I got a double," he said, after manager Lee Mazzilli and bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks embraced him.

"Hey, I've got to take one for the team. That was pretty funny. I enjoyed that one. I heard everybody screaming, and I loved it."

Mazzilli orchestrated the ruse, holding up both hands and signaling for the other players to stay back.

"I thought we were going to do more running," outfielder David Newhan said. "But you catch on pretty easy."

Sosa had visions of a triple before catching on to the joke.

"He said he was going for three," Mazzilli said. "I told them what we were going to do. It was a long day. And he got a kick out of it."

Sosa was his usual gregarious self yesterday. He sat in the dugout with reporters during batting practice, asking one of them if he was going to make the team. He also complimented a Fort Lauderdale police officer for instructing a young autograph seeker to leave the dugout roof. And he took great pleasure in ribbing Miguel Tejada after the shortstop's fly ball didn't reach the seats.

"You've got to do more push-ups," Sosa yelled.

Tejada dropped to the ground and followed Sosa's instructions.

O's like Cuban defector

The Orioles continue to have interest in Cuban defector Maels Rodriguez, 25, who has worked out twice at Fort Lauderdale Stadium, but executive vice president Jim Beattie said the club is only in the "initial stages" of evaluating him.

Rodriguez hasn't pitched in almost two years and had command problems during his first workout, once missing his target so badly from the bullpen mound that the ball sailed into right field. But he looked better during his second session.

"We like him so far," vice president Mike Flanagan said.

Mazzilli mum on starter

Mazzilli has a pretty good idea which pitcher will start on Opening Day, but he's not ready to reveal the name.

Sidney Ponson did the honors last year, but he could be challenged by Rodrigo Lopez, who led the club with 14 wins.

Mazzilli indicated that the exhibition games won't have much influence on his decision. He also won't announce the starter as quickly as he did last spring.

"We have more guys in camp," he said, "and things can happen."

Contract updates

Seven players agreed to contracts: Outfielders Larry Bigbie and Val Majewski, pitchers John Maine, Matt Riley and Aaron Rakers, catcher Eli Whiteside and first baseman Walter Young.

The Orioles have signed 26 of the 38 players on their 40-man roster.

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