Shaping up Orioles springing forth with discipline, conditioning


SARASOTA, Fla. -- After 27 years, some subtle changes are beginning to show in the spring training routine of the Baltimore Orioles.

It is nothing drastic, and reflects changing times more than changing methods. But, make no mistake, this camp bears the stamp of manager Frank Robinson, who strongly believes that team discipline begins at this time of the year.

That will be a major part of Robinson's "state of the spring address," when he meets with the full squad for the first time tomorrow. As of yesterday, only nine of 53 players had yet to put on a uniform -- even though position players are not due for another 24 hours.

Robinson is encouraged by the early sign of enthusiasm, but knows there are days ahead when drudgery will set in. That could be especially true this year as the Orioles play the role of spring training nomads, wandering over both coasts of Florida in what could be a grueling 33-game exhibition campaign.

"What I'll remind them is that we only have this time once during the year and we have to make the most of it," said Robinson. "What goes on down here will carry them through the season. You have to take advantage of this time to get in shape -- to make sure you don't cheat yourself, because if you do that, you cheat the team."

The changes that will be noticed most by those familiar with past camps revolve mainly around the conditioning aspect of spring training. But the schedule has been adjusted as well in an effort to have every player finishing at approximately the same time. In the past, with pitchers and hitters separated into groups, alternate workouts constituted "early days," particularly in the early stages.

Robinson is striving to eliminate that, while at the same time trying to avoid the standing around time that every player, manager and coach dreads. "I like the idea of doing things together," said Robinson, "so I'd rather have everybody finish at the same time."

The spring training program used by the Orioles was originally compiled and written by former third base coach Bill Hunter, and then minor-league manager Earl Weaver, in 1964. That was the year Hank Bauer took over as manager -- and two years before Robinson came to Baltimore.

The workout schedule incorporated methods used by the Dodgers (Hunter's original organization), the Cardinals (with whom Weaver spent most of his playing career) plus many innovations of Paul Richards, who managed the Orioles from 1955-61.

"The changes mostly involve adding on -- extending, rather than changing," said Robinson. "But the conditioning routine is completely different. It's coordinated with the conditioning coach [Alan Johnson], rather than just having a coach lead calisthenics.

"We actually started it in 1989 [Robinson's first year as manager and Johnson's first year as conditioning coach], but we didn't implement the whole thing because I didn't want to come in and change everything right away.

"We had some success with this program, even on a limited basis, two years ago, but we suffered last year because of the shortened spring training," said Robinson.

Every player will have a prescribed routine, though the strength workouts for pitchers and position players will differ -- and there will be no exceptions.

"An injury will be the only reason a player will be allowed not to participate," said Robinson. "And players who have exercises other than those in the program will be free to do them, but on their own time."

If it sounds like a tight camp, Robinson claims it seems worse than it is. "It's not meant to be tough," he said. "I don't want them to think it's work. I don't believe in keeping them out there three or four hours just to impress somebody."

Robinson also is implementing an on-field dress code, something that had grown to be insignificant over the years. It means that everybody will be in full uniform at all times, with caps optional only during post-workout running drills.

"I think if you look back over the course of my career as manager I was known as sometimes being tough -- but not as being inconsistent."

That description also fit Robinson as a player. It's taken him a while to bring the two roles together. He probably will never get acceptance as a manager until he does what he did as a player -- win. And it's easy to get the feeling that Robinson knows this is the best chance he's ever had, and this is the only time to lay the groundwork.

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