FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- If there was any question about Mike Devereaux's enthusiasm about returning to the Orioles, it disappeared yesterday, when he appeared in camp several days early.
"People ask me, 'Do you still have any bitterness toward the Orioles?' " Devereaux said. "When did I ever express any bitterness toward the Orioles?"
Devereaux became a free agent in 1994 after it became apparent that the club was not interested in keeping him as its everyday center fielder. He was coming off back-to-back disappointing seasons, but he bounced back to hit .306 last year for the Chicago White Sox and made the most of a late-season trade to the soon-to-be world champion Atlanta Braves.
His game-breaking home run in the decisive game of the National League Championship Series carried the Braves into the World Series and earned Devereaux the NLCS MVP trophy.
Now, he's back in an Orioles uniform, and he has an excellent chance to return to the postseason. He had hoped that his success in 1995 would rate him an everyday outfield job somewhere, but said he has no regrets about accepting a one-year contract with the Orioles -- even if it means a less defined role.
"The situation, the quality of the team . . . and it's Baltimore," Devereaux said. "It wasn't that tough a decision."
Devereaux took the field wearing No. 10. He wore 12 during his earlier incarnation as an Oriole, but that number has been claimed by newly acquired second baseman Roberto Alomar.
Let the campaign begin
Hall of Famer Jim Palmer already made headlines with his attempt to lobby the Hall of Fame Veterans Committee on behalf of former Orioles manager Earl Weaver, but the actual letter-writing campaign begins today.
"They are going out tomorrow," said Palmer, who made his first appearance at camp yesterday. "I wrote it, and my wife, Joni, put it in the computer and will send it out to everybody tomorrow."
Palmer said that Weaver is an obvious choice because he was the winningest manager in the majors from 1969 to 1982. Palmer cites the opinion of statistics guru Steve Hirdt that the most deserving Hall of Fame candidates should be those players and non-playing personnel who dominated the era in which they performed.
"I think Weaver did that," Palmer said.
The newcomers are making their presence felt. Kent Mercker organized a pool for the Daytona 500, with 43 participants taking one driver apiece. Practical jokester Roger McDowell strolled by, and everybody turned and faced him, wary of having a back turned. Left-hander David Wells badgered and cajoled teammates good-naturedly during pitchers' fielding drills. "I don't think we have to worry about having a quiet clubhouse with this group," said manager Davey Johnson. "I think they may want to enlarge it."
The newborn child of minor-league prospect Billy Percibal is ++ having serious health complications, and the Orioles are attempting to arrange an emergency visa for Percibal's wife and the youngster -- who are in the Dominican Republic -- for medical treatment in the United States. . . . The arbitration hearing for Arthur Rhodes is scheduled for today in New York, with a decision expected tomorrow. Rhodes, who is asking for $675,000, will attend the hearing. The Orioles are offering $300,000 in what could be a nasty case. . . .
Johnson saw signs that reliever McDowell is experiencing a little tenderness in his arm. "He didn't say so," Johnson said, "but I could tell." . . . Johnson probably will carry 11 pitchers this season. . . .
Johnson said he'd like the Orioles to continue training in Fort Lauderdale in future springs. "The nomad Orioles need a home," he said. "Ideally, you'd like to have a minor-league complex in the same proximity, and ours is in Sarasota right now. But I was talking to some of the officials from the city, and they were talking about getting one down here. Hopefully, we'll work something out."
Somebody asked Johnson, a licensed pilot, if fiscally conservative Reds owner Marge Schott ever asked him to fly the team plane. "A lot of guys do a lot of jobs there," he said. "If she knew I flew, she might've wanted me to be a co-pilot."
Making their pitch
A capsule look at five nonroster pitchers trying to win a spot with the Orioles:
* Rocky Coppinger (RH): The Orioles' top pitching prospect dominated in the minors last year. If he doesn't start with the Orioles, he'll certainly be in the majors by September.
* Don Florence (LH): Florence, who turns 29 in a few weeks, threw in 14 games for the Mets last year, and dominated in Triple-A last summer, compiling an 0.96 ERA in 41 appearances.
* Mike Hartley (RH): Veteran reliever was with the Orioles for a month last September, but pitched in just three games. He's 34, and has eight major-league appearances the past two years.
* Jimmy Myers (RH): He was the stealth Oriole last year. Extremely well-liked by the Orioles veterans because of his easygoing, folksy manner, he was with the team for about two weeks and didn't make a single appearance.
* Keith Shepherd (RH): The Orioles signed him off his winter ball performance, with the recommendations of Bobby Bonilla and Roberto Alomar. Throws very hard, but has struggled in 28 major-league outings (5.74 ERA). He is 28.