O's are driven by Byrnes' full-throttle approach

Acquisition brings energy, enthusiasm to lineup

July 31, 2005|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

The man who rushed to a Denver airport late Friday night to catch a redeye flight to Baltimore, arriving in town at 6 a.m. yesterday on limited sleep, was slumped on a couch in the Orioles' clubhouse with the worst case of bed-head ever recorded. The look is typical for Eric Byrnes, their new left fielder and No. 2 hitter, a player in desperate need of a nap and a comb.

Baggy, faded jeans that barely clung to his hips. A wrinkled brown and white T-shirt. Not an ounce of pretentiousness in his body.

"That hasn't changed," said catcher Sal Fasano, a former teammate in Oakland. "He's stylish, very stylish."

His face is more likely to appear on a game program than the cover of GQ magazine, and that's fine with the Orioles, who didn't trade for Byrnes because of his taste in clothes. They wanted his right-handed bat in the lineup and his energy and enthusiasm in the clubhouse.

Byrnes, 29, might have seemed a little fatigued yesterday, but nobody's motor runs faster.

"I'm going to go out there and bust my [butt] every day. That's the only way I've ever played the game," he said before the Orioles' 9-6 loss to the Chicago White Sox yesterday.

"When I'm in the lineup, I'll go out there and give it everything I have. I don't know if you guys have watched me play, but that's what I do. That's what I enjoy doing. I just love playing. I love being on the field."

Making his Orioles debut, Byrnes went 1-for-5 with a run-scoring double in the third inning. He ripped a pitch from Jose Contreras down the left-field line, diving across second base and maintaining contact with his foot.

Contreras picked him off after making two earlier throws, but Byrnes still received a loud ovation as he returned to the dugout. His last at-bat resulted in the game's last out.

"It would have been nice to win this one, but it's good to get out there," he said. "I love our team."

Byrnes is tangled in a 5-for-37 slump, the kind that makes a player want to pull out his hair, if he could get his fingers through it. He batted .189 in 15 games with the Colorado Rockies, who dealt him to the Orioles for outfielder Larry Bigbie.

Leaving the American League and the only organization he knew presented a stiff challenge for Byrnes, who began the year with the Oakland Athletics after hitting 20 home runs in 2004. He was traded to Colorado on July 13 and barely had time to get acclimated before moving again.

"People always want to talk about adjusting to a new league, but I don't think you ever really understand it until you go through it," he said.

"It's been a learning year. I was in Oakland the past six seasons and hadn't been traded before. The first one's always tough. I left 24 of my best friends in that clubhouse."

Byrnes couldn't wait to make new ones yesterday. He took a quick nap in his hotel and arrived at Camden Yards by 9:30 a.m. "I don't sleep much anyway," he said. Byrnes shook hands with his unfamiliar teammates and hugged the players he recognized from Oakland, including shortstop Miguel Tejada.

Only Tejada, himself a bundle of energy, could make Byrnes look placid.

"Miggy's tough to keep up with," Byrnes said.

Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli indicated that Byrnes will be the everyday left fielder, which means no fence is safe. He has been known to crash into them at full speed, showing total disregard for his body.

"You won't believe it until you see it," Fasano said.

Managers and coaches have tried to persuade Byrnes to back off a little for fear that he'll suffer a serious injury.

"I've definitely heard that before," he said, "but I'm not going to."

Said Mazzilli: "You can't ask someone to change their style of play. And that's one of the reasons we got him."

The Orioles need an infusion of energy after losing 12 of 14 games, and Byrnes could hit them like a 12-pack of Jolt cola.

"He's a good guy to have because he was like a big cheerleader if you needed it, and very exciting to watch," Fasano said. "Everything he did, sometimes you were just wowed because he's so aggressive, diving for balls, running into walls. He's not afraid to sacrifice his body. I'm hoping he can bring that to us because we need something. We're a little flat right now."

The Orioles don't want to give the impression that Bigbie played soft. He put forth maximum effort and had many friends in the clubhouse, and his departure wasn't celebrated.

"You hate to see a guy like Bigbie go," first baseman Rafael Palmeiro said. "He's been a great teammate, a good player for us. But you never know. This may spark us. We'll just have to wait and see how it turns out. But Bigbie was a tough player, too."

Bigbie never doubled as ballpark security, though, a story that has followed Byrnes from Oakland. A story he seems almost embarrassed to tell.

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