FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Yes, Cal Ripken had a conversation with New York Mets manager Bobby Valentine. And yes, the topic was former Orioles closer Armando Benitez, who was traded to the Mets in December in a three-way deal that brought catcher Charles Johnson. But Ripken's version of what was said differs greatly from Valentine's account.
Is anyone surprised?
Valentine has been quoted in Newsday as saying that Ripken referred to Benitez's act of hitting New York Yankees first baseman Tino Martinez in the back with a fastball last season, which incited an ugly brawl, as one of the "manliest" things he had ever seen.
Sitting in the Orioles' dugout at Fort Lauderdale Stadium yesterday during a 30-minute group interview, Ripken confirmed that he talked to Valentine about the young reliever, but denied making the comment.
"I thought we were going to get through this without anyone bringing that up," he said, smiling. "I don't know how that quote came about. I saw Bobby Valentine at a New Year's party and he asked me about Armando Benitez. He said, 'I've got him now. What do you think of him?' And I said, 'I absolutely love him. I think he's got a great arm. Everybody should have an arm on the team like that. I think he's going to develop into someone who's going to be a real good closer someday. He can be so dominating.'
"So he said, 'What happened to him last year?' And I said, 'Well, I really think the incident at Yankee Stadium affected him. And I don't know all the details of how it affected his season, but ' And at some point along the line at the end of the conversation, I said, 'One thing for sure is, he's got guts.' And I don't know if he brought the Yankee Stadium thing in with 'guts,' or how that came together, but it's basically a positive feeling about how I feel about Armando. And I do think he has guts. It wasn't meant to say that by hitting Tino Martinez, that makes you gutsy. By no means.
"I think it's wrong," he added, referring to the beaning. "We all know it was wrong when it happened. There's no real rationale for that. The fact that it happened, you say, 'OK, it was wrong,' but you still protect your teammate. So I don't know where that story came from."
DeShields starts over
Another season has brought another new double-play partner for second baseman Delino DeShields. What's lacking are any concerns over what lies ahead.
DeShields, who signed a three-year, $12.5 million contract over the winter, will spend much of spring training getting acclimated to shortstop Mike Bordick. It's the same drill he performed after joining the St. Louis Cardinals in 1997 and the Los Angeles Dodgers in '94, and when he broke into the majors with the Montreal Expos in '90. Players come and go, and you adjust accordingly.
Roberto Alomar had a similar task when Bordick signed with the Orioles before the '97 season and Ripken shifted to third base. It comes with the territory.
"As much experience as both of us have it would be different if he was a rookie or I was a rookie," said DeShields, 30, before taking his physical and engaging in the first full-squad workout at Fort Lauderdale Stadium.
"It doesn't take long. It's just a matter of getting used to the guy, knowing where he likes the ball, things like that."
As for adjusting to a new league, DeShields said, "That's baseball, man. I don't know them and they don't know me."
"I don't think there is one," he said.
Belle weighs in again
Albert Belle met with reporters for the second time this week. This time, rather than plopping down on a chair in the media room, he sat in the dugout and endured the constant interruptions from low-flying planes.
Most of the questions centered on baseball, but he also was asked about his battered image and how his accessibility to reporters in camp is a sign that he's changing.
"I'm not really concerned about it," he said. "My main concern is getting in shape for spring training and getting ready for the start of the season and getting ready to turn this thing around. As far as worrying about my image, I can't control that anymore and I'm not going to try to. But when you win a lot more games than you lose, your image gets better."
Belle is accustomed to getting booed on the road, including when he visited Camden Yards while with Cleveland and Chicago, He takes it as a compliment, and he appreciates a good barb.
Belle relayed a story from two seasons ago, when the Houston Astros came to Chicago for an interleague series.
"I guess it must have been a Houston fan, and he told me I was one hot dog away from being Cecil Fielder," Belle said, referring to the rotund slugger. "I got the biggest laugh out of that."
Kamieniecki throws well
Among the pitchers who threw batting practice, Miller was especially pleased with Scott Kamieniecki, who is coming back from disk-fusion surgery.
"It was great to see Kamieniecki throw that free and comfortable. He's well ahead of schedule, so that's a big plus for us. He was the biggest excitement for me," Miller said.
More good news came from Sidney Ponson, whose shin splints didn't affect his throwing. Ponson, told not to run until the discomfort subsides, rode a stationary bike.
He looks Werthy
Catcher Jayson Werth, listed at 6 feet 5, 205 pounds, is noticeably thicker in his arms and chest. Often compared in build to a young Dale Murphy, Werth said he added about 25 pounds during the winter.
"It's from eating, lifting weights, working hard. I feel good," he said.
Werth, a first-round pick in the 1997 draft, batted .265 with eight homers and 53 RBIs at Single-A Delmarva. He threw out 39 percent of attempted base stealers, and swiped 21 bases in 27 tries.
The Orioles' 41st annual clinic will be 9 a.m. to noon tomorrow at Lansdowne High on Hollins Ferry Road.
Former Orioles Dave Johnson, Al Bumbry, Larry Sheets, Jimmy Williams and Mark Williamson will appear, along with the Oriole Bird.
Approximately 500 children will learn pitching, hitting, catching and fielding skills, and parents will participate in a sports medicine discussion with the coaches.
Call 410-547-6161 or 410-547-6160 for more information.
Pub Date: 2/26/99