O's spring theme song sounds upbeat, in tune

February 20, 2007|By PETER SCHMUCK

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Brian Roberts showed up looking like Grizzly Adams, which has to be considered a positive development for a team that can probably use a little rugged individualism after nine consecutive losing seasons.

The beard will have to come off, of course. The Orioles open full-squad workouts today at Fort Lauderdale Stadium, and team rules require that players look their best. Team rules about playing their best have not been so strictly enforced over the past decade or so, but even that might be starting to change.

OK, it's the first week of spring training and there are waiters walking around the Orioles' clubhouse with trays of the Kool-Aid - so, sue me, I took a sip - but it's nice to see everybody pretty much on the same page this year.

Miguel Tejada showed up early yesterday morning and immediately attacked the lingering notions that (a) he doesn't have the same passion for the game he did when he arrived in Baltimore; (b) he doesn't want to play here; (c) the Orioles are a hopeless team; and (d) he isn't capable of giving a multiple-choice answer.

It was only his first day, of course, and the Orioles are still undefeated in 2007, but it really did seem like Tejada had spent the offseason coming to grips with the way his image suffered because of his moody behavior over the past couple of seasons. He was upbeat, apparently in shape, and ready to change the perception of himself and his struggling franchise.

"I'm going to be a different Miguel," he said. "I'm going to be different. I'm going to be totally different. I'm going to be more on time. I don't want to say that I'm not on time. But I'm going to be one of the first ones. 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."

If that doesn't get you a little fired up, I don't know what you want, unless it's a couple of long-term contracts for Roberts and pitcher Erik Bedard.

Tejada batted .330 last year with 214 hits, 24 home runs and 100 RBIs. Imagine what he might do if he's happy again. Imagine what he might do with a little more pop (Aubrey Huff) behind him in the lineup.

"Having him here, it's not going to help me in particular," Tejada said. "I think it's going to help the whole team."

Well, that would be nice, too. There is no doubt the team is improved over the one that won just 70 games last year. The rotation is deeper. The bullpen is deeper. There is enough power in the lineup to at least make some opposing pitchers uncomfortable once in a while.

The Orioles are so much deeper, in fact, that they have two Kevin Millars to keep the club loose this year. They have the real Kevin Millar, who used to park his motorcycle in the clubhouse hall last year. And there's countrified reliever Jamie Walker, who was walking around Sunday with a T-shirt that proclaimed, "I'm Not an Alcoholic ... They Go To Meetings." Never met the man, but I like him already.

Does all this add up to a winning 2007? Maybe not. The American League East never gets any easier, and the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays still look like the top three teams. But the important thing is to play competitive baseball and stay around long enough to create either an opportunity to improve at midseason or real hope for 2008. That is not out of the question, though a lot would have to go right.

Roberts was upbeat about the improved pitching staff, though the rose-colored glasses clashed with the orange jersey and the beard that soon would be only a shaggy memory. He was even talking playoffs.

"Most definitely," he said. "I think you look at our staff and you look at Oakland and they had [Barry] Zito, [Mark] Mulder and [Tim] Hudson - three young guys. We have Bedard, [Adam] Loewen and [Daniel] Cabrera. If they each go on and win 15 games, you are right in the hunt already. I think everybody in this league knows they are capable of that."

That might be a stretch, but it sure beats the fatalism that has infected the organization at several junctures over the past nine years. The front office needs to face the hard realities of the talent gap in the AL East, but the players and the fans need a little bit of reason to believe.

"I think when you look at 2005, people still remember that and they know that we are that close," Roberts said. "We really were, and I think we are a lot better now. I think we are all excited, but you have to do it for 162 games and that's hard to do."

On the first day, however, it's nice to talk about.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

The Peter Schmuck Show airs on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon on Saturdays.

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