In language of the game, Alfaro strikes out

THE BALTIMORE SUN

He is in his 21st year of professional baseball and is almost a dozen years removed from his big chance. His name is Jesus Alfaro, a big name in Caracas.

Alfaro, who plays for the Phil Regan-managed Caracas Lions, went to big-league camp for one spring of his 16 years playing pro ball in the United States. It was 1983.

"They told me Cal Ripken was going to move to third base," Alfaro said. "I was supposed to get his job. That guy still playing every day. I no take it away from him yet. I was in the big-league camp 18 days, played in two B games, and they send me back to Double-A.

"The Orioles were my favorite team when I was a kid. Boog Powell. Brooks Robinson. Then when I got to the Orioles, I said, 'Yeah, I'm going to get to the big leagues now.' "

Alfaro put up huge numbers during the prime of his minor-league career and like so many productive minor-league players, he often wondered why he never got a shot.

Then the Milwaukee Brewers sponsored him at scouting school in Florida in 1990. And Alfaro stopped wondering.

"In baseball, you have prospects and organization players," Alfaro said. "I was an organization player and I never knew it until I went to scouting school.

"As part of the school, they have you rate yourself on all your tools. I cried that day I had to evaluate myself."

Turned out Dallas Green was right when he told the young Philadelphia Phillies farmhand he didn't have major-league stuff.

"I was 17 years old and Dallas Green came up to me and said I was a Double-A player, maybe Triple-A at the most," Alfaro said. "I guess Dallas Green was right, but it wasn't easy to hear that from him."

Alfaro signed with the Phillies in 1976, with the Cubs in 1978, and with the Orioles in 1982.

"Lee Smith was my roommate when I played Double-A and Triple-A," Alfaro said. "Good guy. Funny guy."

Alfaro is a good guy, a funny guy, and a deeply respected guy in Venezuela.

A veteran U.S. player with his experience, natural leadership ability and intelligence would be trumpeted as a potential manager and would be in line for a coaching job.

But Alfaro speaks with an accent, and players who speak with an accent, it seems, seldom are hired as coaches.

Alfaro, 36, was offered a scouting job with the Brewers in 1991, but he turned it down to continue his playing career. Now, he is ready to move on. But to what job? If only he didn't have an accent, he likely would have his choice.

Yankees pursuing Baines

The New York Yankees are holding ongoing discussions with the agent of Orioles designated hitter Harold Baines, fueling speculation

that the Yankees are looking to trade outfielder/DH Danny Tartabull.

Baines, 35, a free agent from St. Michaels, hit .294 with 16 home runs and 54 RBIs last season, his second with the Orioles.

Poole back on track

Orioles left-hander Jim Poole is a very smart man. Maybe the smartest man in baseball. But even he isn't smart enough to see the future.

Otherwise, he would have accepted Phil Regan's offer to pitch for the Caracas Lions. Instead, Poole accepted a better offer from Caracas' chief rival, Magallanes.

Poole laughs about his choice now. "I turned down Phil Regan," Poole said, laughing. "Oh boy.

"I can't complain. Magallanes has been great to me and they are letting me go home early [Dec. 1]."

Poole did impress the Orioles' new manager the first time he pitched against him. Showcasing a new changeup, Poole tossed a 1-2-3 inning. Even if he hadn't thrown well that day, Poole's presence in Venezuela alone has impressed Regan.

"That shows you the guy wants to improve," Regan said. "It shows me he knows he has work to do."

After a woeful season in which he lost command of his best pitch, his slider, Poole headed for South America to get what he couldn't in Baltimore -- innings.

Poole said he was happy to hear Regan got the job and just as happy to hear Mike Flanagan was his new pitching coach.

"I was happy from the standpoint he was an ex-pitcher," Poole said. "That usually lends itself to running a pitching staff well. And Flanny is very well-respected. When I met him in '91, I absorbed everything I could from him. I was in his ear two months straight. He has a lot to offer."

Business as usual

A day in the life of two American journalists in Caracas.

The streets were gridlocked near the ballpark, which is on the grounds of the University of Central Venezuela, an autonomous territory. We decided to hop out of the cab and hoof the rest of the distance.

A group of rifle-toting cops hovered at one end of the bridge, which was shut off to traffic. Beyond the other end of the bridge, militant students wearing masks were up to no good. Not the sort of no good that troubles parents of American college students. Guns and explosives. That sort of trouble.

The students fired shots toward the cops. They made fireballs. ++ They tossed explosives. On the other side of the street, pedestrians went about their business as if they were on the outskirts of a movie set.

Inquiries as to our safety were greeted with reassurances and gentle laughs at our expense. The protest was over the price of the bus fare, which had been increased to the equivalent of 12 cents.

"Don't worry," we were advised in Spanish. "Just blend in with the crowd. They aren't mad at you. They are mad at the police. It's safe as long as your friend puts his camera away. If they think you are taking their picture, they might shoot you."

When in South America, do what the South Americans do.

We calmly made our way to the game, where we were informed by one student that the left-wing students who protest something or other every Thursday give all the students a bad name.

Just as the bandits and murderers give the city a bad name.

For the most part, the locals were friendly, even the guys who accidentally dumped a beer on my head and laughed about it for two or three innings.

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