Despite run-in, Obando still eager to be star afield


MINNEAPOLIS -- Sherman Obando wants to prove he can play a position other than designated hitter. Left field, right field, first base, whatever.

He wants to so badly, Obando says, that when he's standing in the field, waiting for a pitch, he's thinking, "Please hit it to me. Right now, hit it to me."

"I want the ball so much," he said, "so I can play [more] and show that I'm OK."

Obando got his wish in the Orioles' season opener Wednesday in Kansas City. He pinch hit in the top of the eighth, slapping a single through the middle and driving home the O's only run of the game.

With the Orioles trailing 3-1 going into the bottom of the eighth, manager Phil Regan inserted Obando into right field; Regan's thinking was that if a couple of runners got on base in the top of the ninth, Obando would get a chance to hit again. "And maybe," Regan said, "he would drive one, hit a three-run homer."

Two outs into the inning, Gary Gaetti lifted a high fly into short right-center. Obando ran over from right field, calling for the ball. He heard second baseman Manny Alexander calling his name -- Obando, Obando, Obando! He heard nothing from center fielder Andy Van Slyke. Obando reached to make the catch.

And so did Van Slyke. The two collided, the ball dropped, a run scored, and any realistic chance for an Orioles victory ended.

Obando said that as soon as the fly ball bounced away, his first thought was that he would be blamed for the play; that's what happens when you have a reputation as a bad defensive player. (Van Slyke, by the way, took blame for the play, saying he'd called the ball early and hadn't called off Obando, who he didn't see, as he neared the ball.)

Obando said: "I was thinking that the pressure would be on me."

Obando is mistaken, as far as Regan is concerned. Regan said he'll continue to use Obando in the field.

"From everything I heard before I got here," Regan said, "I thought he would be a butcher, and he really is not. He gets to a lot of balls and he's pretty good once he gets there.

"I tell you what, I think he could play some first base. He's got pretty good hands."

This has been going on his whole career, a manager trying to find somewhere to put Obando and his potent bat. He came up in the Yankees organization as a catcher, but injuries forced New York to move him to first base.

They didn't like him there, so he was moved to the outfield and later exposed to the Rule V draft, where the Orioles claimed him. After spending the mandatory first year with the parent club, Obando last year was sent to Triple-A Rochester to, theoretically, learn a position.

Obando says he was told he would be used in left and right field. Instead, he spent almost the entire season as the Red Wings' designated hitter, before he broke his shin fouling a ball off his leg on Aug. 18.

This spring, Regan liked Obando's power so much that he played him in right, left and at first in exhibition games.

Regardless of whether Obando makes progress with his defense, he still will get regular at-bats.

It appears that Regan will platoon him in the designated hitter role with Harold Baines, playing Obando against left-handers and use him as his No. 1 or No. 2 pinch hitter on those days that Baines starts.

"He's got tremendous power," Regan said in spring training, "and you've got to find ways to take advantage of that."

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