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Anderson faces challenge of another sort this season Spring Training


ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Brady Anderson is the first to admit it's a whole new ballgame this spring. But he vows that he'll take the same level of intensity on the field that he did a year ago.

For the first time, he knows his season, maybe even his career, won't be on the line during exhibition games. He doesn't have to prove that he belongs -- but that he can remain at the level he played last year.

"I don't even like to say it like this, but . . . . I'm going to make the team," Anderson said yesterday.

It was a workout day for Anderson, who didn't accompany the Orioles to Haines City for the 4-0 win over the Kansas City Royals, and provided a chance to reflect on the difference between this year and last.

"I didn't know what they had in mind for me -- whether it would be a chance to play every day, a spot as the fourth or fifth outfielder, or whether I might not make the team," he said.

As spring training progressed, he got a notion, but wasn't sure. "I seemed to be playing like I was going to get the chance to play every day," said Anderson. "I was hoping that's the way they were thinking, but I didn't know for sure."

He and manager Johnny Oates remember the day Anderson got the message.

"We were playing the Twins in Fort Myers and there was about 12 days left [in Florida] when he told me," said Anderson.

The date was March 19, and Oates recalls the circumstances. "We came down here looking for a leadoff hitter as one of our top priorities, and I was tired of banging my head against the wall," said Oates.

"I decided I might as well make the decision, and give him the challenge that day. I walked out to left field and said, 'Brady, I have to talk to you,' " Oates said.

The message came in the form of a question. "How would you like to be my leadoff hitter every day, no matter who's pitching, and catch the ball for me in left field?" Oates said.

"As I remember, he kind of blinked and did a double-take," said Oates. "I told him I wanted him to play defense and create havoc on the bases and score runs. He told me he'd love to have that opportunity."

Oates had one piece of advice for Anderson. "If you go two or three games without getting a hit, don't be coming into the clubhouse looking to see if your name is in the lineup," said the manager. "You're going to be my leadoff hitter every day."

It was the vote of confidence Anderson says he needed.

"He [Oates] deserves a lot of the credit for what he said and did," said Anderson. "When I got off to a slow start, I read where he said, 'Judge him on the whole season, not a few games.' "

Anderson now has numbers on his contract ($1.85 million) to match the ones he put in the record book last year (.271 average, 21 home runs, 53 stolen bases, 80 runs batted in).

He also has a degree of security. And he's enough of a realist to know that he's no longer on trial, that his every move won't be under the same degree of scrutiny.

"This is the first time that I haven't had to make the team in spring training," he said. "That's a little different. It will be nice not to face that pressure -- but there's always pressure any time you go on the field.

"I have a desire to perform well," said Anderson, when asked if there was anything specific he would emphasize this spring. "I think you have to work every year on every part of your game.

"It never ends, there's always things to work on -- that's why I'd rather look ahead and not back."

Since he broke into the big leagues, 1988, Anderson always has created a lot of attention. It always centered around the potential of a top prospect.

"That's the kind of attention I didn't want," he said. "The attention I'm getting now is for what I've done on the field -- and I like that."

Anderson also likes the fact that, for the first time in his career, he doesn't have to scuffle just to keep a job in the big leagues. The challenge now is keep himself at a higher level.

He knows he's going to make the team.

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