No milestone unturned

Records: Sammy Sosa's quest for his 600th home run and Rafael Palmeiro's pursuit of hit No. 3,000 will keep the Orioles' season exciting.

April 04, 2005|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Among the many photos that adorn Sam Perlozzo's home is a snapshot taken five years ago, on the night that Cal Ripken collected his 3,000th career hit in Minnesota. Ripken is standing beside Perlozzo, then the Orioles' third base coach. His signature is scrawled across the bottom.

And each time a replay is shown of Eddie Murray rounding third base after hitting his 500th home run, also in an Orioles uniform, he's reaching to shake hands with Perlozzo.

"It's pretty neat stuff," Perlozzo said. "It puts things in perspective, where these guys have been their whole careers and where you are at the time when they break the record. It's just cool."

Perlozzo has at least two more chances this season to continue his Forrest Gump routine, always turning up where history is made. As the Orioles' bench coach, he'll move to the top step of the dugout when Sammy Sosa launches his 600th homer and Rafael Palmeiro strokes his 3,000th hit. Moments frozen in time will hold him, too.

Both milestones should come this summer, barring injuries to either player. Sosa needs 26 homers, Palmeiro 78 hits. No matter how the Orioles are doing, no matter how far behind they might fall in the standings, the season will have a purpose.

"It's great history of the game, and to be there is fun," Perlozzo said.

"You're trying to win ballgames, but at the same time, you're watching these guys perform and do their thing and then all of a sudden you get down to that time. It's just an amazing thing to watch.

"The performance of the guys and how they react under pressure and the reaction of the fans, it gives you chills. It really does."

Sosa is trying to become the fifth member of the 600-home run club, joining Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds and Willie Mays. Palmeiro would be the fourth player with 500 homers and 3,000 hits, along with Mays, Aaron and Murray.

"It's special to see how his career has developed through the years and the way mine has," said Palmeiro, who is 49 homers shy of 600. "We kind of went our separate ways early on. We talked about the things we dreamed of, and it was just dreams, really. As a young player, you can only dream. You don't realize the potential you have until you start playing and developing."

Who would have guessed that they'd end up in the same city, chasing big numbers in the same season?

"For the fans in Baltimore, it's going to be very special, and even for the manager. How many managers get that opportunity?" Lee Mazzilli said. "But winning supercedes that, and they both are well aware of that. I think it's inevitable that it's going to happen. It's just a matter of when."

The possibility that both players could reach their milestones on the same day has crossed a few minds in the B&O warehouse. It's an intriguing thought, but most people in the organization would prefer to spread the wealth and not lump two celebrations into one night.

"From a personal achievement standpoint," spokesman Bill Stetka said, "they deserve to have the spotlight shine on them separately and not have to share."

They also probably deserve to keep the moments from being tainted with more talk of steroids. Ever since their names appeared in Jose Canseco's tell-all book, they've received more attention for being accused than accomplished.

The national media trickled into Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Stadium, where the Orioles train each spring, for reasons that had little to do with baseball immortality.

"Hopefully, now that all of this is behind us, people will recognize the significance of these achievements," Stetka said.

Fans are expected to keep the turnstiles spinning as both players near their milestones.

"Hopefully, we're packing the stands because we're in the playoff run at the end of the year. If not, that's definitely going to bring people out," outfielder Larry Bigbie said.

"Everybody's going to want to catch that 600th ball or see that 3,000th hit. It's good for the city of Baltimore. They haven't had, since Cal's been here, these types of players in the stadium, so I think that'll be good to bring back that atmosphere to Camden Yards."

An Oriole for about two months, Sosa already has made an impact in marketing. The club will give away Sosa T-shirts to adults who attend Wednesday night's game.

"That's probably our first adult shirt giveaway since Cal," Stetka said. "Obviously, Sammy Sosa's presence is big."

The legend has a chance to grow this season, in an environment that has become quite comfortable to Sosa.

"All the respect that I'm getting from all my teammates and my manager, I really like that. It made me like born again," he said.

"I want to finish my career here in Baltimore. I'm not the kind of player that jumps around from team to team. I just think there's a good chance for myself to finish my career here, and I'm looking for that."

Bigbie said he's amazed a player can approach 3,000 hits. He can't even comprehend what Sosa is trying to do.

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