A tractor seat remains bolted to the wall above Chris Hoiles' old locker, a symbol of the toughness that earned him the nickname "Tractor man." Some boxes and clothes belonging to him also were there until the Orioles' former catcher arrived yesterday to clear them away.
Hoiles made his first appearance at Camden Yards since being released April 2 while the club was in Atlanta. The Orioles' starting catcher for eight seasons, Hoiles will remain in Baltimore through the summer while his new home is being built in Ohio. He accepted a job as roving catching instructor with the Orioles and didn't dismiss the possibility of managing in the minors.
"The game's been so good to me and I've had so much fun playing," said Hoiles, who will be paid the $3.7 million remaining on the final year of his contract. "At this point I feel doing something like this is a way of giving something back. And if I can reach one or two or more kids and have them enjoy what I went through, that would be a pleasure."
A degenerative hip condition ended his days behind the plate, and ultimately his time with the Orioles. He conceded it would take a "miraculous recovery" for him to consider playing this season, but he didn't rule out a return next year.
"The way it felt this spring and all the things I had to go through to get ready to play, I just felt this would probably be the better way to go, as far as taking the job with the minor-leaguers. This cuts out a lot of the pounding and everything that I had to go through," he said.
"There's a lot of disappointment, but there's some relief to it, also. The game's hard enough to play. When you're injured it makes it that much tougher."
At this point, Hoiles said he hasn't discussed hip-replacement surgery with doctors. "I'm going to try to wait as long as possible before I do something like that," he said.
"It still has its days, but I have to say by the end of spring training it actually felt better than it did in the beginning, just working it out and doing certain exercises and stretching. But there's a lot of baseball activities you have to go through where it would feel good for a while, then you sit down for a half-hour and try to tune it back up and there's nothing there."
Hoiles, 34, watched Monday's opener on television. "It was very strange," he said. "To be on the inside for so many years, right in the middle of things, and to have to watch it on TV and see the guys you went through spring training with, it was pretty hard. But you can't walk away that easy."
What about attending a game at Camden Yards?
"I don't think I'd have a problem doing that," he said, grinning, "if I can get tickets from any of these guys."
DeShields set for tomorrow
Delino DeShields returned to the Orioles' clubhouse yesterday, three days after heading to the minor-league camp in Sarasota, Fla., to continue his rehab from a fractured left thumb. DeShields played in two simulated games there, the most recent on Wednesday, and will be at Double-A Bowie tonight for its opener.
He's eligible to come off the disabled list tomorrow. "That's when I'm ready. Saturday's the day," he said.
General manager Frank Wren left open the possibility that DeShields could be activated tomorrow, depending how he looks tonight. "That's a little different competition, obviously, from rookie ball to Double-A," Wren said. "A lot of it's in his court. From a health standpoint he's ready. It's a matter of timing."
Meanwhile, the other Oriole on the disabled list, pitcher Scott Kamieniecki, remains with the club but is restricted to doing long toss because of a strained hamstring. Wren said Kamieniecki is feeling better and getting closer to the "next step," which would be taking the same route as DeShields and going to Sarasota.
Long ball, long time
It took five complete seasons in the American League and two games into his sixth for Will Clark to strike Camden Yards from the list of ballparks where he hasn't homered in his 14-year career.
He did it Wednesday night, driving a pitch from Tampa Bay's Albie Lopez into the seats in center field in the seventh inning. All that remains in the AL is Fenway Park, where he's hit .438 with 18 RBIs.
"I had a feeling it would happen sooner or later," he said of ending the Camden Yards drought. "That sort of stat can be attributed to pitching. They did a good enough job of keeping me in the yard."
Other than The Ballpark in Arlington, which he called home for five seasons, Clark has been the most homer-happy in the Metrodome in Minnesota. He's belted eight to go with a .356 average and 16 RBIs in 101 at-bats.
Clark had a .306 lifetime average at Camden Yards before this season, and is 6-for-12 in three games as an Oriole. But he's noticed something else about his new surroundings besides how comfortable it's been hitting here.
"The fans here are really, really into the ballgame," he said. "As much as I'm a student and fan of the game, to see fans this knowledgeable is impressive. Even in the first and second inning, when the opponent has two strikes, they're cheering for the strikeout. Those are the kind of people I like to be in front of. They definitely heightened my enjoyment of Opening Day."
Around the horn
Doug Linton, who hasn't pitched in the majors since 1997 with the Kansas City Royals, will start Sunday's game against Toronto. The club will have to make a roster move to clear space for him.