FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Cal Ripken got another present yesterday for saving baseball a year ago.
A present that beats all those swanky gifts he got last September, you can be sure of that.
He got to stand at shortstop during an Orioles workout, look to his left and see Roberto Alomar standing at second base.
Darn sure beats the leather jacket and that bib rock for your garden, huh, Cal?
"I don't think it's hit me yet that we'll be playing together," Ripken said after the Orioles' first full-squad workout yesterday at Fort Lauderdale Stadium. "It may not hit me for a while."
Like maybe the first time Alomar darts into the outfield to start a double play, or the first time he turns a pivot play faster than anyone in baseball.
Ripken has always claimed that his brother, Bill, was the best of the 30 second basemen he has played with since 1982. Bill is No. 2 now. Boy, is he ever.
It's almost as if Alomar's presence is the Orioles' way of apologizing to Ripken for all those years of making him play alongside Todd Cruz, Juan Bell, Marty Brown and anyone else who wandered through the clubhouse with a glove.
Actually, the ballclub is just trying to win a division title for a change, not please the shortstop with an $18 million gift.
But Ripken does deserve Alomar. And what a sight they should be.
Only one of the best double-play combinations in history.
"I had a good one last year in Cincinnati with Bret Boone and Barry Larkin," Orioles manager Davey Johnson said, "but I would pay to see this one."
Lots of fans will.
Ripken has played shortstop with grace, sure hands and intelligence for more than a decade. He is still among the best in the game despite losing a step.
Alomar? With his fearsome combination of quick feet and instincts, he has no peer as a second baseman in today's game.
"Second base and shortstop are where the leadership of the club is, where the brains on the field are," Johnson said. "There's nothing that happens that the players at those positions don't know. To have players of the caliber we have at those positions, we should be a pennant contender."
Ripken and Alomar were at their positions together for just a couple of minutes late in a three-hour workout yesterday, but they began the process of learning each other's styles.
"I asked him where he wanted the ball [on double plays] when it was coming from different places," Ripken said. "We talked through a few things. It'll take some time before we know each other. But it's just a matter of playing together. Getting time together."
Alomar said: "It'll take a little while, like maybe a month or so. But after that, we should be fine. I'm excited about it. Very excited."
The two have played together before. They were members of the American League's starting lineup in the All-Star Game for four straight years. It was there, Ripken said, when he first realized that playing with Alomar could be something special.
"I would call over to him between batters asking him if he knew anything about how to play certain hitters," Ripken said, "and he would shoot back, like, 'Play him straightaway unless he's behind, and then play him to pull,' that kind of thing. I saw right away that he thought the game through that way, like I do."
Alomar shrugged at the compliment, as he does all compliments. "God gave me a gift for playing this game," he said. Too bad he's so shy, huh?
Johnson, who hasn't played or managed in the American League in 24 years, said he would use both players off the field, too.
"I'm very opinionated and stubborn about the way the game should be played, but I'll use their judgment when it comes to how to align the defense or how to play certain teams or what they think about certain players," Johnson said. "Their knowledge is an asset that should be used."
To begin meeting that end, Johnson got Ripken and Alomar together yesterday before the workout. "Just to open the lines of communication between them, and also between them and me," Johnson said. "It went well."
In all, it's a long way from a year ago, when rookie manager Phil Regan tried to change the way the Orioles have aligned their defense for years, and unsure-handed Bret Barberie was penciled in as the second baseman.
"It's just a different situation all around this year," Ripken said, "from the new front office to the new manager to having a spring training home to having a bunch of new players."
Including the best second baseman in the American League.
"I think it'll hit me when we start the season," Ripken said, "that he's on our team."
That, he is.