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Mercedes' first shot isn't last Birds' call


It shouldn't have to be clarified, but just in case let it be noted that Luis Mercedes is getting his first opportunity with the Orioles this weekend.

Not necessarily a last chance to prove himself, as many have suspected, and at least a few have probably hoped.

Mercedes is a talented, but erratic, outfielder who has hit .318 during four minor-league seasons. He came close to leading three different leagues in hitting in consecutive years.

Unfortunately, he has as many suspensions on his record as batting titles. The most recent came 12 days ago, when he was suspended for the year by the International League for throwing his helmet in the face of an opposing player who said something to him as Mercedes was leaving the field.

Concerned about the overall implications, the Orioles have been low-key about the situation even though they have counted on a leadoff Mercedes in their future. But the club decided that circumstances warranted Mercedes be given a late-season opportunity.

He will officially join the roster Sunday for the final game of the three-game weekend series against the Kansas City Royals that begins tonight (7:35, HTS).

Mercedes has been in Baltimore since Sunday night, meeting with his representative, Mike Powers, general manager Roland Hemond, and assistants Frank Robinson and Doug Melvin. He also has been working out at Memorial Stadium, which he will do with the Orioles for the next two days.

When Mercedes arrived in Baltimore he was unsure about his future. "Monday was a very anxious day for him," said Powers. "Tuesday was a little better, and it wasn't until Wednesday that he knew he'd be activated.

"This wasn't a situation where they [the Orioles] were thinking one way and Luis and I another," said Powers. "We knew that a penalty had to be paid, but I didn't want to see him crucified.

"Luis has been very remorseful about the whole thing ever since it happened. He knows he made a mistake. I feel good about the way the Orioles handled it -- we've had a lot of good discussions with Roland, Frank and Doug."

Hemond wouldn't say whether the club had issued any warnings to Mercedes. He suggested that a lot of the 23-year-old's problems are related to adjusting to a different culture. "You try -- to give good counseling," Hemond said. "If you don't communicate [with the players] then you're not doing your job. We just want to make sure he understands what's expected of him.

"A lot of young players go through difficult periods of adjustment. In my career I could read you a litany of players who had problems and went on to long careers in the big leagues.

"What Luis has gone through here is no different than what some of our [American] players go through when they play winter ball," Hemond said. "We recognize that there are cultural changes and other adjustments that have to be made.

"He's not the first young player who has had to make adjustments. Sometimes you see that with players coming out of college into pro ball. You see it with kids from the West Coast, who have to get used to the East Coast.

"He is a good kid at heart, and he's highly competitive. He's paid his suspension and now we want to give him a chance to get

acclimated to the big leagues -- to get a feel for the park and the team.

"He'll sit with Frank for the first two games and see the major leagues from a different perspective."

Hemond would not say if the delay in activating Mercedes was a form of extension of the International League suspension. "He hasn't played for a while, so he needs some time to get himself ready," said Hemond. "This will give him a chance to work out with the club, watch a couple of games with Frank and get a better feel for what's going on."

It's not known how much Mercedes will play the rest of the season, but the Orioles have been eager to see how he responds to major-league pitching. After leading the Single A Carolina League, the Double A Eastern League and finishing second in the Triple A International League in hitting the last three years, Mercedes has created a lot of excitement in the organization.

Unfortunately, not all of that excitement has been positive. But Powers, who took on Mercedes as a client this spring at the suggestion of Randy Milligan, thinks that time will erase the negatives.

"His bat will speak for itself, I know that," said Powers. "My role is to help him through the other things."

The first test comes tonight, when Mercedes works out for the first time as a member of the Orioles, although one still temporarily on hold. The next will be when he faces major-league competition on a regular basis.

And still another could come should Mercedes establish himself in the major leagues. It's when he reaches a certain comfort zone at that level that the adjustments he's trying to make now will come into play.

L For now, call this a first opportunity -- not a last chance.

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