Hammonds gets an early scare


KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- All those hours of post-surgery pain, the months of rehabilitation on his knee, those afternoons convincing Orioles manager Phil Regan he was ready for Opening Day. All of it very nearly went down the tubes for Jeffrey Hammonds.

And not while he was sliding or running or diving. He nearly got hurt standing in the on-deck circle in the third inning.

When third baseman Leo Gomez swung at an inside fastball from the Kansas City Royals' Kevin Appier, his bat shattered. The splintered barrel rolled directly at Hammonds, who tried to jump and dodge the bat.

He failed -- the bat banging into his knee -- luckily, his left knee, not the right one, which was repaired last October. Hammonds started limping and then dropped to the ground. But, laughing, he eventually stood and took his at-bat, flying out.

"I saw it coming," Hammonds said. "I saw it coming enough to make sure I didn't get hit in the gut."

Hammonds was hit by a pitch leading off the sixth, but when he turned around he was shocked to see Damond Buford emerging from the dugout to pinch run for him.

Regan said later that he replaced Hammonds because of the rain that fell for most of the game; he didn't want Hammonds re-injuring his knee slipping in the outfield, or trying to slide on the wet infield.

Hammonds shrugged and said he understood Regan's reasoning. "Hey, it's a long season," Hammonds said.

It could be very long, now that Buford holds bragging rights against Hammonds, who says he had never been pinch run for in his life. In fact, some scouts say that when healthy, Hammonds may be the fastest right-handed hitter from home to first.

"Well," Buford said, "I can't really brag until I run for him after he gets that brace off."

That may be in a week or so. Regan said Hammonds will play today and Sunday, sitting out games tomorrow and Saturday to protect him from the artificial surface of Minnesota's Metrodome.

Headache for Hoiles

Catcher Chris Hoiles was examined by Kansas City's team doctors after being hit on the left temple by a pitch in the eighth inning. The ball, thrown by Rusty Meacham, bounced off Hoiles' helmet and into the stands behind home plate.

Hoiles was checked by the Orioles' trainers and remained in the game, but he met with the doctors almost immediately after the final out.

Hoiles said he was OK, except for a headache. "They told me to put ice on it," he said dryly, "from the inside."

Anderson makes a splash

Brady Anderson did a little police work, targeting a rowdy fan for security personnel after the fan allegedly threw two baseballs onto the field. The fan was removed, but not before Anderson was showered with beer for his efforts.

"That was really weak," Anderson said.

It was not the first time an outfielder has been splashed from the stands, but it was unusual for Opening Day, which is usually a more festive occasion. If there was room to wonder whether the incident had anything to do with fan frustration over the players strike, Rafael Palmeiro didn't think so.

"That was just one drunk," he said. "There's always going to be one drunk in the crowd who does something like that. I don't think it had anything to do with anything."

Umpires on the line

Major-league umpires picketed outside Kauffman Stadium before yesterday's game, just as they did the night before at Joe Robbie Stadium in Miami. This time, they got some moral support from Orioles outfielder Andy Van Slyke, who went out to visit them on the line.

The umpires have been locked out since Jan 1. National League president Len Coleman said Tuesday night that the leagues and the umpires union remain far apart in collective bargaining negotiations, but expressed hope that the situation could be resolved soon.

Royals sign Coleman

A day after a union official complained that nobody had signed free-agent outfielder Vince Coleman and suggested that this was an example of collusion, the Royals signed Coleman to a minor-league contract.

He's expected to put in some time for Triple-A Omaha, then move up when he's in game condition.

"I'm tickled to get Vince back," said Royals manager Bob Boone. "I'm going to use him a lot. He'll get a lot of playing time. We work hard to manufacture runs. To get a premier base stealer like Vince is fantastic."

Around the horn

Royals coach Gene Mauch was in uniform on Opening Day for the first time since 1987. . . . Cal Ripken was signing autographs before the game when a fan held up a street sign that read CAL RIPKEN AVE., and offered it to Ripken in return for a picture with the Orioles shortstop. Ripken agreed, but rather than try to have the fan lean awkwardly out of the stands, Ripken had the man climb down and stand alongside him for the photo. . . . Dumbest question of the post-game siege was given to Van Slyke, asked if the media attention surrounding his arrival would detract from the majesty of Ripken's streak. "Yeah, right," he said, sarcastically. "Move over, Cal." . . . The conventional wisdom is that the Orioles' bullpen is, potentially, the weakest part of the team, and the relievers' collective performance on Opening Day did not change that. The bullpen allowed five hits, five runs (three earned) and three walks and struck out two.

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