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Oft-injured Hammonds makes debut in the year of ailing stars


ATLANTA - How ironic that a player dogged by injuries throughout his career and questioned about his desire to compete ended up in tonight's All-Star Game while so many others backed off for health reasons.

Jeffrey Hammonds, the former Oriole who never lived up to expectations in Baltimore, learned during the seventh inning of Sunday's game in Anaheim that he was replacing Barry Bonds on the National League roster. The news came from Colorado manager Buddy Bell as Hammonds headed to the on-deck circle.

"We were getting our behinds kicked," Hammonds said, "and Buddy looked over at me and said, 'Go out and do something. And by the way, you're going to Atlanta.' I looked back at him and was like, 'Are you serious?' And he was serious."

Mark McGwire won't be taking any swings at Turner Field. Neither will Bonds nor Mike Piazza, Alex Rodriguez nor Manny Ramirez. Even baseball's Iron Man, Cal Ripken, had to decline, and Ken Griffey confined his activity to last night's home run contest. But Hammonds, the fourth player selected in the 1992 draft, will suit up.

Hammonds is batting .357 with a career-high 65 RBIs in his first season with the Rockies, his third team in three years. The Orioles traded him to Cincinnati during the 1998 season for infielder Willie Greene, a one-time can't-miss prospect who kept missing. The Reds, in turn, dealt Hammonds to the Rockies over the winter, giving him a chance to play every day.

He's been able to do that because his body has been willing. It rarely cooperated during six seasons with the Orioles.

Is this vindication?

"For the staff to choose me to come here and represent the National League, whether I was in Baltimore, Cincinnati or Colorado, it means the same to me as a player," Hammonds said. "I don't take Baltimore out there on my chest when I play. It's just unfortunate I didn't have a chance to do this back then."

Former Orioles manager Ray Miller voiced his frustration with Hammonds when the trade was consummated in Tampa Bay, criticizing the outfielder for being unreliable because of all the injuries. The words were confined to Miller's office, but they found the intended target.

"I listened to it. I also looked where it was coming from," Hammonds said. "It stung, but I had to slow everything and look at the whole picture - where it was coming from, why it was coming that way. It hurt because it put me in a situation where I had to come out of that hole."

Thank you, Joe

Before Mike Bordick did anything else yesterday, he made sure to seek out American League manager Joe Torre, who chose the Orioles shortstop as a replacement for Rodriguez. Bordick wanted to show his appreciation - over and over again.

"I don't know if I thanked him enough," said Bordick, named to his first All-Star team. "I wanted to give him a big hug and stuff. Of course, he's the Yankees' manager, so that wouldn't be right."

Bordick, hitting .303 with a career-high 14 homers and 54 RBIs, found out he had been added to the AL roster while sitting on the team bus after Saturday's game in Philadelphia. He was too surprised to speak, so the Orioles' quietest player spread the news.

"Kevin Behan [public relations assistant] came back with the phone," Bordick said. "After I was told about it, I didn't say anything. Harold Baines did, but I was kind of taken back. Harold Baines, right? 'Sleepy' speaks up.

"I've kind of been numb since the night they told me. Now things have started to pick up, and it's getting more and more exciting. I've been experiencing so many feelings now. I talked to my dad, and he was crying on the phone. And my mom and my mother-in-law. It's just a lot of emotions. I've been playing for a while, and nothing like this has ever happened. And what's great is other people can enjoy this with me."

Sosa update

A day after telling the Chicago Cubs he would veto any trade attempt, Sammy Sosa gave various positions on his future yesterday.

"I want to stay in Chicago," Sosa said. "They're beautiful fans. They're beautiful people. They love baseball. I'm looking forward to staying in Chicago."

A few minutes later, thinking about the contract extension he wants, his position shifted.

"If they don't take care of me after this year is over, I'll probably finish next year and go to another place," Sosa said. "If they have a future with me, they'll close the deal. If not, I'll probably go to another place."

There's even a chance he would approve a trade during the off-season - if it's the right deal.

"I really have to wait until the year is over the find out the whole situation," Sosa said.

Determined to start

Cleveland second baseman Roberto Alomar, another one-time Oriole dotting the landscape at Turner Field, expects to start despite some swelling in his right elbow. Alomar said he'd make a decision early today.

Cincinnati reliever Danny Graves hit Alomar with a pitch during the ninth inning of Sunday's game. Alomar could barely move the arm and had trouble sleeping.

"If the game was [last] night, I don't think I'd be able to play," said Alomar, an 11-time All-Star. "But I want to play. I want to go the extra mile. I was born to play this game of baseball. The fans picked me to be there, and I want to show them I want to be there. It could be one at-bat or two at-bats. As long as I show myself there, I will feel real proud of myself."

Maddux update

Cox said he hoped pitcher Greg Maddux, who has been replaced by Graves on the NL roster because of a bruised shoulder, would be available for the Braves' series against the Orioles that begins Thursday at Camden Yards.

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