FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Umpire John Hirschbeck made his first appearance of 1997 in a game involving the Orioles yesterday, but his first on the same field with Roberto Alomar will have to wait until he visits Camden Yards on April 22.
Alomar did not make the two-day trip to Fort Myers. He still is recovering from a severe ankle sprain and remained in Fort Lauderdale to prepare for his likely return to the Orioles' lineup this weekend. So he and Hirschbeck will have to wait another month for their potentially uncomfortable first on-field meeting since the nightmarish final weekend of the 1996 regular season.
Hirschbeck doesn't know what it will be like, but he hopes that the day will come soon when he doesn't meet a crowd of reporters when he shows up at an Orioles game. He said early on that he wanted to put it behind him. So did Alomar. It was the peripheral people -- umpires union chief Richie Phillips, Alomar marketing representative John Boggs and Orioles owner Peter Angelos -- who kept the controversy on the front burner.
"It was behind me a long time ago," Hirschbeck said. "I said in the fall that it was time to move forward. You forgive and forget in life. There are more important things in all our lives."
The issue exploded again when Phillips and a couple of veteran umpires announced earlier this year that umpires would be quicker to eject players and managers who dispute calls this year, putting Hirschbeck in an uncomfortable position. He has gotten ironclad support from the umpires union, but he has steadfastly maintained that he would not do anything differently this year -- especially when he umpires games involving the Orioles.
"I'm in the union," Hirschbeck said. "He [Phillips] made that statement. I don't want to comment on that. I do my job the best way I know how. I treat people the way they treat me."
He is particularly sensitive about the perception that he, and other umpires, will treat Alomar and the Orioles differently this year.
"People don't understand umpires," he said. "You want to build a reputation. You want respect. You do that by hustling, by doing the job. You don't hold grudges. When you're angry with someone, the next day is a new day."
That's why Hirschbeck doesn't want to look back anymore, but he repeated his earlier assertion that he did not curse Alomar during the altercation in Toronto and still feels he handled the situation correctly.
Angelos and Alomar have asserted that Hirschbeck called Alomar an obscene name that insinuated a sexual relationship with his mother, and that it set him off to the point of spitting on the umpire because that epithet is considered much more offensive in Latin America.
"I thought I handled it in a way that I thought was appropriate," Hirschbeck said. "I gave him two warnings before I ejected him. I guess we all have a certain memory. He has a memory of the situation and I have a memory of it. All I can say is I thought I handled it properly."
The umpires union felt that American League president Gene Budig didn't handle the situation properly. Phillips tried to turn the postseason on end because the umpires felt the five-game suspension levied against Alomar was far too lenient. They still feel that way, but Budig and Hirschbeck spoke by telephone last month to clear the air.
"He explained some things to me," Hirschbeck said. "We had a good talk. He did what he felt he had to do. We kind of shook hands over the phone and said 'Let's go on.' At the time, he felt like he was doing the right thing, and if a man says that, that's all he needed to say to me."
What the Orioles did yesterday: Lost to the Boston Red Sox, 5-4, at City of Palms Park in Fort Myers. Jimmy Key pitched five innings and gave up eight hits on the way to his first loss of the exhibition season. Comeback kid Kelly Gruber had three hits in five at-bats to raise his spring average to .200 and threw out a runner from the outfield.
What the Orioles will do today: They'll face the Los Angeles Dodgers in an exhibition game at Fort Lauderdale Stadium at 1: 05 p.m.
You know it's spring when: The starting outfield alignment includes Gruber, Jeffrey Hammonds and Manny Alexander. Davey Johnson sent several of his veterans home early from the two-day trip, including Brady Anderson, Cal Ripken and Rafael Palmeiro.
Opponent: Los Angeles Dodgers
Site: Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Time: 1: 05 p.m.
Starters: Orioles' Scott Erickson vs. Dodgers' Ramon Martinez
Pub Date: 3/18/97