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Myers, last but not late, checks in O's closer downplays controversies of last year


FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- The 1997 Grapefruit League exhibition season begins today, which means that Orioles reliever Randy Myers will be in uniform for the first time this spring when the Orioles face the Minnesota Twins at Fort Lauderdale Stadium.

Myers, whose delayed arrival at training camp is as predictable as the swallows returning to San Juan Capistrano, strolled into the Orioles' clubhouse late yesterday afternoon, bragging about the success of the women's basketball team he helps coach and sidestepping questions on both his past and future as the Orioles' closer.

"I'll have to talk to Davey," Myers said. "I don't know what his plans are."

Manager Davey Johnson plans to use Myers as the full-time closer. But Johnson's decision to remove him in some difficult situations late in the 1996 season has left open the question of how much the closer role will be modified this year.

"I don't predict the future," Myers said. "If I could, I'd be in another business. I'm sure I could hit some nice lottery jackpots if I could predict the future. I don't know what's going to happen in August. I'm just here to try to help our team win."

He did that last year. He saved 31 games to anchor the Orioles' bullpen in the first year of a two-year deal, but Johnson pulled him from several games late in the season and replaced him with promising Armando Benitez at a pivotal juncture in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series.

That fueled speculation that the Orioles would give Benitez a larger share of the closer role this year, speculation that Johnson has done nothing to discourage. He has indicated this spring that he will not be locked into a traditional closer routine with Myers, instead using Benitez or Alan Mills in any situation he thinks will produce a better late-inning matchup.

Myers didn't like being hooked last year. He complained at one point that it was an indication that the club would seek to trade him as soon as Benitez was ready to take over as the full-time closer. It was one of a series of controversies that arose between Johnson and various players during the season, but Myers chooses to remember the season more fondly.

"I didn't think it was too bad last year," he said. "I know where Davey is coming from. I didn't see a lot of controversy in the locker room. There's a difference between what's written and what happens in the clubhouse."

Johnson likes to joke about Myers' yearly absence from the opening weeks of spring training, but technically, he isn't late. Baseball's collective bargaining agreement allows clubs to open camp in mid-February, but players are not required to arrive this year until today, so Myers actually is a day early.

He stays home in Vancouver, Wash., to act as assistant coach for the Clark Community College women's basketball team. He arrived in camp crowing about the team's 22-4 record and its place in the final eight of the coming Northwest regional tournament.

Orioles today

Exhibition opponent: Minnesota Twins

Site: Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Stadium

Time: 1: 05 p.m.

Starters: Twins' Brad Radke vs. Orioles' Jimmy Key

Pub Date: 2/27/97

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