Orioles shine at shrine

Team puts troubles aside for day, wins Hall exhibition

May 22, 2007|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN REPORTER

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- With frustrating losses mounting and rumors swirling that their manager could be fired, maybe the Orioles needed a day of low-stakes baseball.

They got one yesterday in the shadow of the game's greatest shrine, beating the Toronto Blue Jays, 13-7, in the annual Hall of Fame Game exhibition.

The result didn't matter much, but the Orioles elicited some "oohs" and "ahs" from an enthusiastic sellout crowd of 9,791 that doesn't get to see major leaguers up close every week.

Aubrey Huff blasted a three-run homer - one of five Orioles' homers - clear over a tree behind the right-field fence. Top prospect Brandon Erbe popped the mitt with his fastball as he cruised through four scoreless innings. Minor league catcher Brian Bock hit two home runs and was named the game's Most Valuable Player.

Most of the team's starters left the game to minor leaguers from Single-A Frederick by the fourth inning. Erbe, an Owings Mills native who relieved Scott Williamson in the second, said he was overwhelmed by his first exposure to big league hitters.

"For everybody else, this was kind of like a day off," he said. "But, for us, it was like the most exciting thing."

The 19-year-old McDonogh graduate said he was excited just to put on a suit and travel with the major leaguers. His parents and two sisters drove up to watch him strike out six Blue Jays.

"I really got more than I could have wanted out of this whole experience," he said.

Cooperstown first hosted the Hall of Fame Game in 1939, when stars from around baseball came to play an exhibition. Even the retired Babe Ruth made an appearance.

The Hall of Fame does its best to evoke that old-time barnstorming feel with the modern exhibition. Like the parks of old, Doubleday Field is tucked between tree-lined streets and downtown businesses. Home runs over the short left-field fence threaten the back windows of two-story houses along Elm Street. Players dress in a nearby gymnasium and ride in a pre-game parade along Main Street with firetrucks and high school tuba players.

The Orioles last played the game in 1998. They were an obvious choice this year with Cal Ripken set for his induction in July.

Days off become precious during baseball's 162-game grind. But if the Orioles felt grumpy about giving one up to play an exhibition, they kept it to themselves.

"I think, initially, they say they'd like to have the day off, but when they get up here, they have fun," manager Sam Perlozzo said. "How could you not?"

Said outfielder Jay Payton: "It's baseball. I play baseball every day. It doesn't matter where."

The team flew into Rome, N.Y., after a bitter 4-3 loss in Washington on Sunday and then bused to Cooperstown. They didn't arrive until 10 p.m., so some players skipped a guided tour of the museum and Hall of Fame. But others went with their wives.

"Wow, it's fun," a beaming Melvin Mora said. "To see all the big guys here in the Hall of Fame, it's a good experience."

Mora said that, like many Spanish-speaking players, his favorite baseball legend is Roberto Clemente. He said his wife took notes as they explored the museum so she could share the game's history with the couple's six children.

Cooperstown has Ripken on the brain, and that led to questions for Miguel Tejada about chasing his predecessor's record streak of games played.

"I never think about that," said Tejada, who has played in 1,124 straight, still fewer than half of Ripken's 2,632. "It's a long way to go."

The shortstop brushed aside questions about recent Orioles losses.

"No, no, I'm never frustrated," Tejada said. "When we lose a game, we can always come back. That's why I don't worry. It's a long season."

For the most part, the day offered a respite from questions about blown leads and Perlozzo's job status. Instead, Orioles were asked about their favorite players of their childhood and their opinions of Ripken's greatness.

Pitching coach Leo Mazzone held forth on the history, future and philosophy of pitching for a leisurely 30 minutes.

"I think it's one of the most beautiful places on Earth, to tell you the truth," he said of Cooperstown. "When baseball's your life, you feel this is a second home. It's better than Field of Dreams. That was a movie. This is real."

Mazzone idolized Mickey Mantle as a boy and acknowledged feeling chills when he saw the Hall's Mantle artifacts.

When asked whether he was intrigued to watch Erbe pitch, Mazzone said: "I'm more worried about Daniel Cabrera tomorrow, to tell you the truth."

Perlozzo made one subtle allusion to his job security. Asked whether he'd be in Cooperstown for Ripken's induction (the Orioles are scheduled to play that day), he grinned and said, "I hope not."

childs.walker@baltsun.com

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