SARASOTA, Fla. — — The debate about who was the game's best shortstop raged on around baseball in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
The conversation started with Alex Rodriguez, continued with Derek Jeter and included Nomar Garciaparra and Miguel Tejada.
Only Jeter remains at that position.
Garciaparra retired this month, and now Tejada is attempting a transition that Rodriguez made in 2004 when the Texas Rangers traded him to the New York Yankees. Rodriguez moved from shortstop to third base when he was 28. Tejada is trying to do it at age 35. Rodriguez thinks he'll be just fine.
"I think he'll do great," Rodriguez said before going 0-for-2 with two strikeouts and a walk in the Orioles' 8-0 victory over the Yankees on Thursday at Ed Smith Stadium. "He was a Gold Glove-caliber shortstop, and I think his transition is going to be smooth."
Defensively, Tejada has looked pretty much the way the Orioles expected somebody who has played 1,846 big league games at shortstop and none at third to look. He has made four errors in 13 games, struggling at times but mostly showing he's capable of making the routine play, which is all the Orioles are asking of him.
"I think he's a lot more comfortable than he was," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said. "Can he get better? We can all get better."
In an interview with The Baltimore Sun in February, Cal Ripken Jr., the Orioles' everyday shortstop from 1983 to 1996 before he made the move to third base, said it takes about 100 games for a player to figure out a new position. Rodriguez, a longtime admirer of Ripken's, smiled when he was asked whether he agreed with the Hall of Famer's opinion.
"It's taking me about 350 games, and I'm still not sure I'm there yet," Rodriguez said. "But like I said, it's just more getting experience there. The more you play it, the more angles that you get to play. There are always different plays you have to see."
Rodriguez's error total has dropped each of the past three seasons after he was charged with 24 in 2006. In his first two seasons at third for New York, Rodriguez made a combined 25 errors. Last season, the two-time Gold Glove winner at shortstop committed nine errors in 116 games and had a fielding percentage of .967.
Tejada has said on multiple occasions that he would like to speak to Ripken and Rodriguez to ask their opinions on the position change. Tejada and Rodriguez shared an embrace Thursday, when Tejada chugged into third base on Nick Markakis' single in the third inning, but there was no time for any extended conversation.
"I don't think I'm the right guy to give advice on that," Rodriguez said when asked what he would tell Tejada. "You have to play balls off the bat in batting practice and get used to it. But overall, it's just getting experience. I think he's going to be fine. He has so much ability that he's not going to have a problem."
All along, Tejada, who was known to play a deep shortstop, said he expects his biggest challenge to be coming forward on bunts and slow rollers down the third-base line. He hasn't been tested much on either so far this spring, but it's an area that opposing teams will undoubtedly try to exploit if Tejada struggles on such plays during the regular season.
Rodriguez agreed that the slow roller is one of the hardest plays for a converted shortstop to make.
"That's definitely one of them, and the other [adjustment] is how quickly and how fast the ball gets to you," Rodriguez said.
"There is usually just one way to make a play, and it's throw your glove at it and hope it sticks. That's definitely different than what you have at shortstop."
For much of the spring, Tejada has gone out to one of the side fields before workouts and taken ground balls from third base and infield coach Juan Samuel or roving instructor Mike Bordick. Trembley said Tejada will do a lot more of that during the final nine days of spring training.
Tejada, who acknowledged that he draws inspiration from Ripken's and Rodriguez's ability to make a successful switch, said he feels like he's exactly where he needs to be.
"I know it's hard, but one thing I've never been afraid of is making an error," Tejada said. "I feel like I can do it. It's a really different position, but any position in the big leagues, it's hard to be good at. I want to do good at third base, just like I did at shortstop. The only way to do that is to keep working hard."
Rodriguez, whose Yankees play the Orioles twice more this spring and 18 times during the regular season, has little doubt that Tejada will succeed.
"I'm going to see plenty of him this season, and I'm sure he'll do great," Rodriguez said.
NOTE: Tejada declined to comment on a federal judge's decision Wednesday to extend his probation an additional six months for failing to complete the 100 hours of community service after the player was sentenced for misleading Congress about an ex-teammate's use of performance-enhancing drugs. Asked about the situation, Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail said, "My reaction is I'd assume that once he completes the 100 hours, the probation period will end, and that seems to me a reasonable request."