With their choices for a Triple-A affiliate next season reduced to two Canadian franchises, the Orioles settled for the closest city and the more familiar league.
The Orioles made official yesterday a two-year working agreement with the Ottawa Lynx that includes an option for 2005 and 2006, providing an out for either side.
They had been affiliated with Rochester for 42 seasons, the longest relationship between a major-league and Triple-A club, before the Red Wings filed for free agency and signed with the Minnesota Twins. The Lynx also filed because of concerns over the Montreal Expos' uncertain status next year.
Joe Foss, vice chairman/chief operations officer, met with Ottawa owner Ray Pecor last week. Negotiations began shortly after the Red Wings completed a 55-89 season.
"We don't feel like we are having to settle for Ottawa," Foss said. "We're happy to be affiliated with this owner."
By reaching an agreement with Ottawa, the Orioles will remain in the International League. Had they chosen the Edmonton Trappers, they would have joined the Pacific Coast League.
"We are very excited about starting a new relationship with the Baltimore Orioles," Pecor said. "The Orioles are an organization with a rich history and we are extremely pleased to be able to have a part in their continuing tradition."
Ottawa had been in the Expos' farm system since the team was formed in 1993. Pecor purchased the Ontario franchise before the 2001 season, and while attendance has increased, he still reported losses this season of around $1 million.
Pecor, who also owns the Vermont Expos of the New York-Penn League, has threatened to move the Lynx to the United States after 2003 if they continue to rank last in attendance. League president Randy Mobley has given his support to a move, which could bring the Triple-A franchise to Maryland.
"I think the fairest response is we'll be in Ottawa for the 2003 season," Foss said, "and we will look at all of our options with the ownership of the franchise in due course."
Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said having the team's top affiliate farther away shouldn't present any problems. "Obviously you'd like your Triple-A club close to your big-league club, but it doesn't always help," he said.
"Sometimes we'd be out on the West Coast and need a player, and he'd have to come from Rochester, so the logistics are pretty much the same."
There will be some obvious disadvantages, including the long lines at customs and a facility that includes only one batting cage.
It's located outdoors, "which is going to make it tough, especially early in the season," said outfielder Larry Bigbie.
"It's not really a baseball city. It's more of a hockey town. But field-wise, it's probably a better playing surface than at Rochester."
"The town itself isn't bad," said pitcher Steve Bechler. "It's just that the weather's going to play a factor in the beginning. The field's all right, but with the cage outside, even if it rains you're not going to be able to hit. It's well below average, but it's something we'll have to deal with.
"That will be more incentive to make the big-league club out of camp."
Bechler didn't sound as confident yesterday about pitching again this season as he did after straining his right hamstring during Sunday's game.
Bechler suffered the injury while covering first base in the ninth inning.
Unable to push off the rubber, he gave up a grand slam to Trot Nixon in the Orioles' 13-2 loss.
"It's definitely worse than it was yesterday," he said while sitting at a clubhouse table. "I can't even move it. I'm not going to rush it. There's no point in that."
Conine's bobble is no error
The Orioles will be handing out another bobblehead doll on Friday, this one with Jeff Conine's name on it.
He's not sure about the face, which more closely resembles teammate Jay Gibbons. But at least Conine's bobblehead doesn't include a "dirt" stain on the back of its uniform pants - an embarrassing accessory to Jerry Hairston's doll.
"No brown spot, no lipstick," Conine said.
This isn't the first bobblehead created for Conine. A doll in his likeness was distributed by the Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital in Hollywood, Fla., for a golf tournament that Conine sponsored.
"The guy who made up mine for the hospital said it looked like Dick Van Dyke," he said.