Orioles first baseman David Segui doesn't worry about the various perceptions of him, often misguided, coming from people who make judgments based on appearance alone. His life is his business. If he wants to bleach his hair blond, so what? If he chooses to paint his fingernails black, have the faces of his two young children tattooed on his arms and ride the streets on one of his motorcycles, that's fine, too.
"It's all just for show," he says while on full display in the clubhouse before a recent game. "I'm not some weirdo."
Privately, some teammates might disagree, though they'd do it with the same humor that Segui has brought to the club since signing as a free agent in December and returning to the organization that introduced him to the majors 11 years ago.
Back then, Segui was recognized more for his artistry with the glove and the singles and doubles his bat produced. He didn't have the muscular build that's developed over the years, the strength to reach the seats from home plate that's made him a more dangerous hitter.
If he did, Segui might never have been traded to the New York Mets in March 1994, after the Orioles signed Rafael Palmeiro to a five-year contract because they sought more power at the position. Segui has hit 107 of his 122 home runs since that transaction unfolded. The .334 average and 103 RBIs he accumulated last season, split between Texas and Cleveland, were career highs.
The Orioles, who needed either protection for Albert Belle in the lineup or a run-producing replacement, targeted Segui. He agreed to a four-year deal, fulfilling a long-standing desire to come back to Baltimore and reuniting him with close friend Brady Anderson.
"I wanted to play on the same team as Brady again," he says while sitting in front of a locker that's separated from Anderson's by one unoccupied space. "I enjoyed the times I played here. It's a beautiful ballpark. It's a nice stadium to hit in - until they moved the fences back. Figures."
Segui, 34, has been playing more than first base with the Orioles this season. He's also been playing catch-up ever since a pulled hamstring began costing him games in spring training. A stretch of seven hits in 12 at-bats during a series in Tampa last month raised his average from .167 to .271, just in time for Devil Rays shortstop Felix Martinez to step on his left hand while turning a double play on April 22 and putting Segui on the disabled list.
"It's slowly getting better," says Segui, who was activated last Tuesday and rapped a two-run double on the first pitch thrown to him. "It's one of those things you live with and play with. There's always something hurting somewhere on everybody in here. Nobody's 100 percent."
Segui missed almost three weeks of spring training because of the leg. He walked into the season without the limp, but also not ready to make much of a contribution offensively. He started off 2-for-18.
"The hamstring hurt me because it didn't allow me to get game-ready," he says. "It pushed everything back and compounded problems with my swing and timing. But I don't know how I could have prevented that. I pulled it slipping in a hole [in a base-running drill]. There's not much you can do."
Don't bother offering Segui any excuses, even the convenient ones, about being exposed within a lineup lacking the same proven hitters that surrounded him in Texas, Cleveland, Seattle and Toronto. He was batting fourth with the Orioles before the hand injury, ahead of players like Chris Richard, Jeff Conine and rookie Jay Gibbons.
"I don't believe in that protection thing," Segui says. "That's a handy excuse for guys who aren't hitting. If I'm not hitting, it's usually not anybody else's fault."
Segui notices Conine dressing at the next locker and takes aim. "Sometimes, it's Jeff's fault."
"I take full responsibility," Conine replies.
The Orioles begin a two-game series with the Anaheim Angels tonight. Segui most likely will bat fifth, with a .239 average that's 53 points below his career total. He's homered once, off Tampa Bay reliever Rusty Meacham, two days before Martinez's spikes sliced a tendon in Segui's hand.
"Hopefully, all these injuries are in the past," he says. "Maybe I've gotten them out of the way, and I can get rolling again."
Segui says he will wind down to a stop once his deal expires in 2004, no matter how he's hitting. The contract with the Orioles will be his last, says Segui, whose father, Diego, pitched 15 years in the majors. Baseball has done many things for Segui, but it can't fill all the empty spaces inside a divorced father. Segui wants the faces of his son and daughter to be more than outlines in ink.
"I'd rather be home with my kids at the crucial point of their lives," he says, a day removed from hitting grounders to Corey, 9, before batting practice during one of their weekend visits from their Kansas City, Kan., home. "It's my opinion that they need their parents at home. It's not worth trying to stretch out your career just to play. I enjoy playing just as much as the next guy, but when you compare it to time with your kids that you can never get back, there's no question. I'd rather be playing Mr. Mom."
It's a side of Segui only those closest to him can appreciate. Or even recognize. His temper can flash in an instant, but mostly in competition, when his serious nature contradicts the laughs he produces inside the clubhouse.
"I'm about as normal as the next guy, at least once I get off the field." he says. "I have to get in a different mind-set when I play. Everybody thinks I'm some mean guy. I'm only like that when I play. ... I won't walk away from a fight, but I'll never start one."
His hair color, a source of amusement for teammates like Anderson and Conine, was altered while playing in Seattle. With the Mariners in a deep slump, Segui and shortstop Alex Rodriguez agreed to get bleached the next day. "He didn't make it. He chickened out. But I kept it," Segui says.
And the fingernails, which he painted hours before hitting his home run? The black polish was his son's idea. Dad's not above mimicking a 9-year-old.
"He did the nail thing first," Segui says. "It was just some stupid thing to do. I need to shock my mother once in a while, too. Keep her on her toes. She cried when she saw the hair, but she likes it now."
Segui had daughter Haley's face tattooed on his right arm in spring training, accompanying Corey's image on the left. "It's addictive. I crave another one," he says. "I don't know what to do. I ran out of kids."
Manager Mike Hargrove, an old-school type who restricts his use of bleach to the family's laundry, just shakes his head when he sees Segui's latest cosmetic changes. Asked in Tampa about Segui's swollen hand, Hargrove said, "Who can tell with all that polish?"
"Everybody's business is their own," Hargrove says. "As long as he stays out of trouble and conducts himself on and off the field, that's fine with me."
"He's different," Anderson says, "but you hope all your friends are like him. He's like the most blunt, honest guy. He tells it like it is. And he's hilarious. He can make me laugh any second of the day. He's a very loyal friend. My family knows him, my best friends know him. Everybody likes him a lot.
"I'm sure people misperceive him until they actually know him. He just likes playing around."