A sitting ovation


Fans indifferent to shortstop in his first game here since trade

Tejada's return to Baltimore

June 18, 2008|By DAN CONNOLLY

Surrounded by media in the visitors' clubhouse yesterday, Miguel Tejada said he hadn't really thought about how the Camden Yards crowd would react when he first stepped to the plate in a Houston Astros uniform.

Good thing, because the fans weren't thinking much about him, either.

There were some claps and some boos for the club's former shortstop and team leader. Maybe 10 people rose to their feet in the lower seating bowl. More than anything, there was deafening indifference.

How understated was it?

After the third inning, the Orioles brought recently signed, 2008 second-round draft pick Xavier Avery, a high schooler from Decatur, Ga., onto the field, and his presence drew more cheers.

That's ridiculous. But it's not unexpected.

When Brady Anderson returned here in May 2002, after he was released in the offseason after 14 seasons as a fan favorite, he got the proverbial golf clap from the Camden Yards faithful.

Nothing more.

As with Anderson back in 2002, the organization played a video montage of Tejada's Orioles highlights on the center-field scoreboard between innings. It was well done, classy. Tejada watched it and when the words - "Thanks, Miggy" - were flashed, Tejada doffed his cap and waved to the announced crowd of 21,535.

In return, there was more polite applause.

If Anderson wasn't fully embraced in his return, why should Tejada have been after only four seasons in the black and orange?

At least the fans are consistent.

Yet Tejada deserved a better homecoming than what he got yesterday. At least from the fans. One by one, old teammates and staff members embraced him.

The crowd, though, basically sat on its hands. And yawned.

Too bad, because in the past decade, no Oriole was better than Tejada.

The problem is, he played during the club's nadir, when fans had become disenchanted and uninterested in the club's continual fourth-place finishes.

Was that Tejada's fault?

Absolutely not, he said pre-game. "It had to be unfair [criticism]," Tejada said. "You see what I do every day. I come to the ballpark and play like a champion. And this game is all about pitching."

Tejada's not one to rip others - he talked continually about how he loved Baltimore and the fans and his old teammates.

But don't pin the losing on him. That doesn't sit well.

"The reason we aren't winning [in Baltimore] is because we don't have a team to compete with the Yankees and Boston," Tejada said. "That's why [the Orioles] are not winning. ... They have to have a team to compete with those people to be a champion. That's why we were always in last place. It's not because of me."

The next part was the most telling. Tejada posed his own question.

"Are they still in first place now?" Tejada asked about the Orioles. When told they weren't, that they were in fourth entering last night, Tejada shrugged, as if to say, "Exactly."

Of course, the Astros were in fourth place entering last night and had a worse record than the Orioles. And while Houston is underachieving, the Orioles are playing better than many had anticipated, with an energy not seen in previous years.

But Tejada's point is simple. He couldn't win on his own. He needed more help in Baltimore, and he didn't have it, especially on the mound.

The messenger might sting, but the message is right on. "Look at the Yankees and all the players they have," he said. "Look at all the players Boston [has]. Boston isn't only Big Papi and Manny; they have the rest of the guys. That's why they're champions every year."

The Orioles were losers in each of Tejada's four seasons here. No matter how much he denies it, the losing wore on him, and his trademark enthusiasm waned.

And that was unacceptable to a disgruntled fan base that only asked for hustle and in return received the occasional stilted effort combined with unending steroid controversies.

The irony is that this 2008 team is better and the future is brighter - partly, anyway - because of Tejada and the players the Orioles received from Houston in December's deal.

For that alone, he could have been better received yesterday.

But mainly because the guy played all the time and put up big numbers.

Instead, the JumboTron's crab shuffle and hot dog race received more applause.

And mustard, ketchup and relish - combined - never drove in 150 runs in a season for the Orioles.


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