Fresh start

Miguel Tejada arrives at O's camp, vowing to change his ways and make a difference

Spring Training

February 20, 2007|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,Sun Reporter

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Vowing to be a "different Miguel," All-Star shortstop Miguel Tejada arrived at spring training yesterday a day earlier than usual and said the Orioles are good enough to make the playoffs and he's going to change his ways to help them get there.

"I'm going to be totally different," Tejada said. "I'm going to be more on time. ... I'm not going to say I'm going to be the first one, but every day I'm going to be one of the first ones to get to the field. I'm hungry to win. And I'm going to try to do everything I can to make this team win."

Asked why he will be different, Tejada said: "Something has to change because I haven't won the last three years. And I have to change something to see if we can win it."

It was a totally different scene from when Tejada reported to spring training last year, about two months removed from his request for a trade because of his unhappiness with the team's direction. At that time, he was dour, defensive and even a little confused when talking about his tumultuous offseason.

But yesterday, he spoke with energy and confidence, both about himself and the team.

"We are," he said when asked if the Orioles are a playoff team. "To make the playoffs you don't have to have nine superstars on the field. To make the playoffs, you need to have nine guys who really believe and think about winning, that are hungry to win. I hope everybody is thinking like this here, hungry to win this year, and I hope it happens this year.

"Those were great [offseason] moves [by the front office]. I think we have what we need for winning. I think they went after the pitchers they needed. Now we have a solid team. We just need now to believe. Everybody. Not just one or two guys. But everybody needs to believe we can win with the team we had."

Tejada's arrival yesterday was somewhat of a surprise, considering he has usually made his first appearance on the day of the first workout, which is today. Tejada arrived around 8 a.m. yesterday and made his way around the clubhouse, hugging his teammates and introducing himself to some of the first-year Orioles.

Brian Roberts, Melvin Mora, Corey Patterson and Kevin Millar were among the other Orioles regulars to arrive, creating a buzz around the clubhouse that had been absent for the first week of camp.

"I think it goes beyond just Miguel," manager Sam Perlozzo said. "Most of the guys that I talked to, they had a little excitement. I think they feel like they have a better ballclub this year, more so than we have seen in a few years."

After passing his physical and speaking to the media, Tejada went outside, had a catch with Mora and took batting practice before getting in a workout. Tejada, 30, normally uses spring training to work his way into shape, but he spent the offseason in Florida working with a personal trainer, rather than returning to his native Dominican Republic.

"I just want to keep my body in great shape the whole time," said Tejada, who has played in 1,080 consecutive games, the longest current streak in the major leagues and the seventh longest all-time.

He said he wants to play in all 162 games again and one of his goals is to steal more bases (he had six steals last year). "I don't want to come to spring training and try to lose weight. I want to work on something that I need to work on. ... I'm in better shape this year."

Tejada had a standout season in 2006, leading the team with a .330 average, 24 home runs and 100 RBIs. He had a franchise-record 214 hits. But he also warded off frequent criticism about issues such as his conditioning, his defensive range, his hustle and his punctuality. Tejada was usually one of the last players to report to the clubhouse on game days.

"I don't know, it's a touchy situation," said Roberts, one of Tejada's closest friends on the team. "I know how my manager feels and I know how some people might feel, but for me, I could care less. I would take Miggy just how he is. I don't care if he shows up just five minutes before stretch or five minutes after stretch. ... You do what you do to get ready to play, and he knows how to do that - that's for sure."

Said Perlozzo: "I think it is important for him; I think it is important for everybody. If you are going to lead a team, you have to lead the team in multiple ways. That is the way to get it done. If he carries it out and does everything he says that he is going to do, then he'll be an even better player than he already is."

Roberts, Millar, Jay Gibbons and Mora were among the Orioles who spoke to Tejada during the offseason. Roberts said he could tell that the four-time All-Star shortstop was revitalized. "We need his energy, because that is what we feed off of," Roberts said.

Perhaps more importantly, Tejada spoke to Orioles vice president Jim Duquette several times in the offseason and praised the club's moves, along with its support in allowing him to play the end of the winter ball season in the Dominican Republic and then in the Caribbean World Series.

"He said he was just having a lot more fun," Duquette said. "I think the fact he was in good shape and was contributing and the moves that we made, there was a lot of different combination of things that he felt good about. People have noticed that he's a different guy than he was last year, personality-wise."

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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