FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Three months from now, when the foul tips and night games have begun to take their toll, the idea of arriving at the ballpark just after sunrise probably won't appeal to Chris Hoiles.
But the Orioles catcher is anxious, and the warm sun and smell of dewed grass are all feeding his frenzy for baseball. "I'm ready to go," Hoiles said yesterday morning, dressed and prepared for an 8:45 a.m. workout.
Outfielder Bobby Bonilla and Hoiles are among the earliest arrivals at Fort Lauderdale Stadium, the new home of the Orioles. Pitchers and catchers are to report today, with the first full-squad practice scheduled for Wednesday.
Hoiles and Bonilla, wearing shorts and sweat tops, stepped onto the grass in front of the first base dugout yesterday and began tossing a baseball, the distance between them gradually lengthening. Reliever Roger McDowell jogged through the stands, up and down stairs, occasionally climbing over one of the many locked gates. Media relations director John Maroon stood nearby and watched, scanning empty Fort Lauderdale Stadium.
"This is pretty nice, don't you think?" he said.
The grandstands of the park are trimmed in blue, the outfield lined with an eight-foot high fence. The distances to left and right field are 330 feet and 320 respectively, and somebody mentions it looks like a pretty good hitter's park.
"I hear the wind blows out," said strength and conditioning coach Tim Bishop. "Constantly."
Hoiles and Bonilla took batting practice in the cages, ran and did some sprints and headed out to play a round of golf. Assistant general manager Kevin Malone arrived, setting a stack of baseball stat books on the desk in his otherwise empty office. He went back outside to retrieve a couple of items from his car, and looked up into the sun.
"This is great, isn't it?" Malone said.
Gets even better today.
O's pursue Nieves
Nieves, 24, a switch-hitter, had 14 homers and 38 RBIs in 234 at-bats for the Padres last year. But he's inconsistent -- Nieves had 88 strikeouts in '95 -- and not suited for a part-time role. The Padres don't have room to play him regularly in their outfield of Rickey Henderson, Steve Finley and Tony Gwynn, and they can't send Nieves to the minors because he's out of options.
According to the source, the Orioles and Padres were close to completing a deal a couple of days ago, but talks cooled. The teams are expected to resume discussions once spring training opens.
The Padres acquired Nieves from Atlanta in July 1993, as part of the package in the trade for Fred McGriff. Nieves is extremely powerful -- he's hit balls 450 feet from both sides of the plate -- but is a subpar outfielder. He could be used as designated hitter with the Orioles.
The Padres are seeking a pitcher as compensation for Nieves.
Manager Davey Johnson was scheduled to arrive yesterday. However, his aunt, Ruth Gurtler, passed away Monday, and Johnson attended the funeral yesterday morning. He's expected in camp this morning. . . . Pitchers Brian Sackinsky and Rick Krivda checked in for the first time. . . . They're back: Bill Ripken's locker is adjacent to that of Cal Ripken. Mike Devereaux's locker is next to that of Brady Anderson.