SEATTLE -- Just when it appeared that the Orioles were going to lose the right to sign coveted first-round draft choice Darnell McDonald, the negotiations took a surprising twist yesterday.
McDonald met the team in Seattle and worked out yesterday, prompting speculation that he will forgo a football/baseball scholarship to the University of Texas and sign with the Orioles.
Orioles general manager Pat Gillick, assistant GM Kevin Malone and manager Davey Johnson all were on hand while McDonald took early batting practice with several Orioles veterans, including Rafael Palmeiro, Mike Bordick and Tony Tarasco. But no one would comment on the negotiations.
The presence of McDonald -- at a time when he was expected to be settling in at school -- was an indication that the chemistry of the situation had changed decidedly.
Agent Jeff Moorad, who has been advising McDonald and his family since the Colorado multi-sport star emerged as one of the most sought-after high school prospects of 1997, had advised the Orioles not to waste a first-round pick on him if they did not intend to offer him a record-setting signing bonus for a prep player.
Now, it appears, McDonald may be willing to sign if the club steps up from its last known offer -- believed to be about $850,000 -- and offers him a contract competitive with the $2 million deal signed by 1996 No. 1 overall draft pick Kris Benson.
The Orioles drafted McDonald with their second pick, the 26th overall, as many teams passed on him, seeing the running back/center fielder as unsignable.
Moorad did not accompany McDonald to Seattle. He was represented by family adviser Vance Larimer, who said yesterday that there would be no comment from anyone in the McDonald camp, but left open the possibility that something material might happen today.
"We're not going to have any comment until tomorrow," Larimer said.
Club officials said essentially the same thing. West Coast scouting supervisor Logan White also deferred questions about the negotiations until today, which created the impression that they would take a decisive turn in one direction or the other by then.
One source close to the situation said that McDonald, whose desire to play both football and baseball at the University of Texas had given him added leverage in the negotiations, has changed his mind and now is eager to sign with the Orioles and begin a professional baseball career. His father, however, apparently has been lobbying heavily for him to go to college.
"I'm excited we got him out here," said White, who scouted McDonald and apparently is acting as a liaison between the club with McDonald's family. "I think we'll feel more like talking tomorrow. He's a tremendous young man and we hope things work out."
It may be now or never. McDonald is scheduled to begin football practice with the Longhorns on Sunday. Moorad originally had set Aug. 1 as the practical deadline for the club to convince him to bypass college, but the Orioles retain the rights to sign him until Aug. 27 -- the first day of classes.
There also is pressure on McDonald to make a decision, since he must wait until his junior year to enter the draft if he does not agree to terms before the official opening of the school year.
Opponent: Seattle Mariners
Site: The Kingdome, Seattle
Time: 10: 35
TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Orioles' Scott Erickson (13-5, 3.50) vs. Mariners' Jamie Moyer (11-4, 4.34)
Pub Date: 8/06/97