Pitchers from north of border might help O's find direction

The Kickoff

March 10, 2006|By PETER SCHMUCK

FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. — FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla.-- --I've been at Orioles training camp for two days now and I've got only one question:

When do the Canadian pitchers get back?

Team USA is still trying to figure out where that Adam Loewen guy came from after he beguiled the Americans for 3 2/3 scoreless innings in Canada's surprising 8-6 victory in the World Baseball Classic on Wednesday in Phoenix. Maybe the Orioles knew what they were doing when they made him their top pick in the 2002 draft.

Orioles left-hander Erik Bedard also threw blanks in his first Classic appearance, giving the two Orioles pitchers from the north country a combined 7 2/3 -inning shutout in the first round.

"All our pitchers are doing well," Orioles executive vice president Mike Flanagan said yesterday. He didn't want to leave out Bruce Chen, who was very effective against Cuba.

Fair enough. Cuba is always tough in international baseball competition and Chen gave up just two runs over five innings. That's probably more impressive than Bedard shutting out South Africa, a country known more for its baseball-sized diamonds than its baseball diamonds.

Daniel Cabrera is the only Orioles starter at the Classic who hasn't pitched well, and that's because he doesn't make his first appearance for his native Dominican Republic until today.

Meanwhile, the Orioles are scuffling along with a minor league rotation and a banged-up bullpen, but manager Sam Perlozzo still hasn't lost that I'm-really-the-manager glow. When you lose more than 40 percent of your projected 25-man roster for as much as a third of spring training, you just have to go with the flow.

Comedian Steven Wright has a funny line for those times when you run into someone in an unexpected location: "It's a small world, but I wouldn't want to paint it."

Orioles utility player David Newhan felt that way when he ran into minor league journeyman Howie Clark in the Orioles' clubhouse. Newhan and Clark used to work on the same Christmas tree lot back in Huntington Beach, Calif., between seasons when they played in the low minor leagues.

"Yeah, we were slinging Christmas trees back in A-ball," Newhan said yesterday. "What better place for a Jewish kid to have a part-time job than a Christmas tree lot."

It didn't go very well.

"I had never flocked a Christmas tree, of course, and they sent me to the back of the lot and told me to flock one," Newhan said. "I was doing it wrong and the guy running the place came back and yelled at me and I thought to myself, `I don't need this,'" so I quit.

"But if you played in the minor leagues, there's a pretty good chance you worked at either a pizza place or a Christmas tree lot at some point in your career."

Seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens has given his most definitive statement yet about his plans for the future. He said in Orlando, Fla., on Wednesday that he expects to retire after taking part in the World Baseball Classic ... unless he changes his mind.

What, is he taking retirement lessons from Barry Bonds? If so, let's hope that's all he's taking from him.

Funeral services for Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett will be held on Sunday in Minneapolis, with a public memorial service planned that evening at the Metrodome.

"We're going to have a celebration of Kirby's life," said Baltimore attorney Ron Shapiro, who was Puckett's agent and is helping the family with the arrangements.

Puckett, who passed away Monday after suffering a stroke, will be remembered by friends, former teammates and a wide array of celebrities during the public memorial, which Shapiro said should draw a standing-room-only crowd to the stadium where the popular Minnesota Twin played his entire career.

"I've represented some of the greatest players in the game," Shapiro said, "but rarely has a player touched the hearts of so many people on and off the field. He is loved.

Puckett's upbeat personality was probably best summed up in one sentence, which he delivered on the day he retired from baseball after losing the sight in one eye to glaucoma.

"It may be cloudy in my right eye," he said, "but the sun is still shining in my left eye."

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

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