Tejada says he's feeling comfortable at third

A smiling Tejada greets teammates, says he's been working at new position

February 24, 2010|By Jeff Zrebiec | jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

SARASOTA, Fla. — Flashing his ever-present smile and calling himself a new man, Miguel Tejada reported to spring training camp Tuesday morning and began the challenge of learning a new position.

"It's the first day with the team, but I'm feeling comfortable because I've been working," Tejada said after the team's first full-squad workout at the Ed Smith Stadium complex. "As soon as I signed, I started working at third base. Today, I was really excited. I'm like a little kid with a new toy. I feel like I'm coming home."

After reporting to camp, Tejada greeted Brian Roberts and Nick Markakis, who were his teammates during his stint as the team's shortstop from 2004 to 2007. He broke into an impromptu dance during the team stretch, flawlessly handled some ground balls at third base and connected for a couple of home runs during batting practice.

He did it all with that trademark smile, which had disappeared during his final days as an Oriole, when the team's losing got the best of him.

"Right now, this team has a lot of young guys with talent," said Tejada, who was traded to the Houston Astros in December 2007 for pitchers Matt Albers, Troy Patton and Dennis Sarfate, outfielder Luke Scott and minor league third baseman Mike Costanzo. "Now, it's not one or two [guys]. It's kind of like the whole team.

"We have a young catcher [Matt Wieters] that can be a superstar," Tejada said. "They have another kid in left field [Nolan Reimold] that can be a superstar. They have a center fielder [Adam Jones], Brian, Markakis. If you remember, there were not many guys like that when I signed last time. Now, it feels like I'm the guy that is going to be protecting all the young kids. I think we're going to have a real fun year."

Tejada, 35, wasted no time in making an impression on his new teammates. He took ground balls at third base with Ty Wigginton, his former teammate in Houston, saying, "Me and Wiggy. Unbelievable." He spent time talking with shortstop Cesar Izturis and joking around with other Orioles, including Robert Andino and Felix Pie.

"It was like old times," Markakis said. "It's only been two years, and it felt like he never left. Everybody is glad to have him back, and not for just what he brings to the field. He has a great personality, makes you laugh. Those are the types of guys you want."

Tejada said he felt the same as when he signed a six-year, $72 million deal with the Orioles before the 2004 season.

"Everybody knows that I've been through a lot of stuff off the field," Tejada said. "The good thing is this is all behind me right now. I feel like I'm going to start a new career. My body feels 100 percent. I don't feel like I've played one game yet. I think that's why I'm so excited. In the last five years, I've come to spring training with a lot of stuff on my mind. Now my mind is clear. Now I just think every day what I can do to help this team and be a good teammate."

The day after he was traded to Houston, Tejada was named in the Mitchell Report, an investigation into the use of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball. He ultimately acknowledged purchasing human growth hormone, but he denied using the substance.

In February 2009, Tejada pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of misleading Congress about his knowledge of performance-enhancing drugs. He admitted that he withheld information about former Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro when questioned by a congressional committee in August 2005.

It was also revealed that Tejada was 2 years older than originally thought after an ESPN reporter presented him with a copy of his birth certificate.

"Everybody knows that I don't hurt nobody," Tejada said. "Whatever happened, happened. After everything is over, I never think that anybody is going to treat me bad because a hundred times, I apologized for what I did. ... Now, everything is new for me. I'm a new man. ... I know these kids know that I'm really anxious to be a winner. I think they are going to try to give me the opportunity here."

Tejada said he has been working out with Washington Nationals catcher Ivan Rodriguez and his trainer and brother, who has been hitting him ground balls at third.

A shortstop for his entire professional career, Tejada said the transition to third base "is not an easy thing to do, but one thing I'm going to do is work hard."

Orioles third base and infield coach Juan Samuel, who drew up a schedule for extra practice with Tejada, said he has little doubt of that. He had planned to give Tejada some time to get used to new teammates and surroundings before the extra work started, but Tejada had other ideas.

"He said, 'Let's start tomorrow early in the morning,' " Samuel said. "We know the work ethic is there. He's up for it, which is good. It's the same attitude, the same Miggi.

"How can you not like the guy? Just his presence is going to mean so much, especially to some of the younger players."

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