Oates on Palmeiro arrival: It's better late than later


SARASOTA, Fla. -- Rafael Palmeiro reported to camp yesterday, but not in time to participate in the Orioles' first full-squad workout.

The free-agent first baseman's arrival was delayed so he could complete the closing on a house he is building in Arlington, Texas. Palmeiro had informed manager Johnny Oates two days before that he wouldn't arrive until yesterday afternoon.

"I'd rather have him miss a day now than later," said Oates, who met with Palmeiro after the workout.

Upon his arrival, Palmeiro said he was ready to put his Texas experience behind him. "I'll play baseball wherever I'm wanted and wherever I'm paid," said the left-handed hitter, who is expected to fortify the middle of the Orioles' lineup. "Texas was fine. I enjoyed it there, made a lot of friends and wanted to stay. I have no regrets. The only thing that disturbed me was the way it ended."

Palmeiro signed a five-year, $30.35 million contract with the Orioles after the Rangers signed Will Clark. Palmeiro is expected to bat third in the Orioles' lineup, behind Brady Anderson and Mike Devereaux and ahead of Harold Baines, Cal Ripken and Chris Hoiles, but not necessarily in that order.

Back, back, back

Oates backtracked slightly yesterday on who will play center field for the Orioles -- then declared the issue dead for the next week.

"I said it wasn't written in cement [that Devereaux would remain in center]," said Oates, who had a private meeting with Anderson after yesterday's workout. He had done the same thing with Devereaux the day before, when he said he "didn't expect to do anything" with his outfield alignment.

"I've got a week to make up my mind," Oates said. "They are both center fielders, and they both want to play center field.

"I'm not going to be switching them back and forth," Oates said. "I'll make a decision by next week and as soon as I tell them, I'll tell you [the media]. We'll drop it until then."

Oates stays the course

Oates quickly dismissed another subject when he was asked if he planned to handle Cal Ripken's playing time differently than he has the past two years. Ripken will enter the season with a streak of 1,897 consecutive games, second only to Lou Gehrig's record of 2,130.

"I'm not approaching the season with any changes in mind. If the Lord is willing and Cal stays healthy, he's going to break the record, that's all there is to it," Oates said.

"As far as giving him some innings off, we have a few options. [Tim] Hulett has done a good job for us there, and we could also have either [Manny] Alexander or [Rene] Gonzales."

Ahead of the game

Oates got what he interpreted as the first positive sign of the year when the team was able to get in a full workout despite heavy overnight rain that lasted until late morning.

"When I looked out the window [before practice] I said, 'There's no way -- today's gone.' I figured we get in our running, and that would be it," Oates said. "But [groundskeeper] Jamie Rodriguez came through for us. He said he could get the field ready in 45 minutes [after the rain stopped], and he did.

"Three months ago we planned a nonfield activity for [yesterday], and it turned out to be on a day it rained," Oates said. "That's the first good omen of the year. We were able to get everything done, and we were only 15 minutes late getting finished."

Gonzales wants old 88

Gonzales is in camp with the Orioles for the first time since 1990. But he hasn't yet been been able to reclaim his old number, 88.

Paul Carey, who probably will play at Rochester this year, got the number a year ago, so Gonzales is wearing 87.

Gonzales was asked if he was going to work out a deal with Carey, or try to wait him out. "What do you think I should do?" he said.

He agreed when it was suggested that the honorable thing to do would be to make a deal with Carey.

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