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Ripken finds there's healthy interest in his back; National media are told he's OK, aside from stiffness


FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Orioles third baseman Cal Ripken wants to reach a point this spring when he no longer is burdened by reminders of the back surgery exactly five months ago that relieved a nerve irritation in his back.

Yesterday wasn't one of those times.

It wasn't any form of discomfort that made Ripken focus on the surgery. Having gone through another round of workouts without incident, Ripken fielded questions from some members of the national media during a 20-minute news conference. As expected, his health was a popular subject.

"I feel really good," he said. "It's been a gradual thing. Sometimes you wake up with some aches and pains. Sometimes you stand around and get a little stiff and you start to wonder, 'Is that because of back surgery or is it because I'm a year older?'

"I think back to right after the surgery. I was rolling over on my side, kind of leaning out of bed and falling out of bed. Then I got to the point where I could sit up a little bit, then roll over and get out. Then I got to the point where I could not even think about it and get out of bed and just be stiff and sore. Now I can get out of bed pretty easily and tie my shoes and do all those good things and come to the ballpark.

"If I have to stand around or sit around for 30 minutes or so, I can get pretty stiff, but I imagine that'll get better."

Ripken said he wasn't certain how the back would react to the early stages of spring training. "Now I do. It didn't bother me one bit. It seems very normal," he said.

"Once we take more batting practice and face live pitching, there are going to be certain benchmarks that I'll have to surpass. But I really don't see any problem with that. It's just a matter of confidence and getting over it. And the longer that you're out of surgery, you start to forget you even had it."

Manager Mike Hargrove indicated on Monday that Ripken might be used on occasion at first base during spring training and the regular season. Ripken said yesterday he hasn't been approached about the switch.

"Nobody's talked to me about first base," he said. "I took some ground balls there during drills two days ago, but I was still using my third baseman's glove. I expect to come in the same as it was last year. As far as I know right now, I'm penciled in as the third baseman until, I guess, I prove I can't do it. I'm not afraid of coming in here and laying it on the line."

Ripken was braced for the inevitable retirement question. It was softened, but still obvious enough to be recognized.

"I was expecting it. I'm kind of surprised it took this long," he said.

"I'm in a position in my life where I know I've had a great, fulfilling career. I'm going to come in and enjoy every moment I can. The retirement thing will take care of itself. I know one thing for sure, I can't come in here and say I'm going to retire. I can't say this is my last year. I have to go out there and find out where you are, how you can compete."

Position players get started

Position players who weren't early arrivals were due in yesterday, with the first full-squad workout taking place today.

"It's time to get it started. I'm looking forward to everyone coming in and having some type of time structure with our position players that we don't have right now," Hargrove said.

Hargrove: Clark 'fine'

From what Hargrove has seen and heard concerning Will Clark, all indications are the first baseman's left elbow has responded well to the August surgery that removed 12 bone chips.

"In conversations with him and watching him throw, I have to believe his elbow's fine. His range of motion is good and he's not reporting any pain," Hargrove said.

Clark was limited to 77 games last year because of a broken thumb and the bone chips that caused inflammation in his elbow.

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