Orioles turn page, eager for fresh look

THE BALTIMORE SUN

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Frustration, disgust and disbelief. The Orioles were a collection of all those emotions the last time they were together on a ball field. The 4-32 stretch to end last season sapped their spirit and tested their resolve.

For inspiration this offseason, Orioles players could read from Jane Leavy's latest book, Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy. In it, Leavy describes Koufax's frustration at the end of the 1960 season.

He was so upset with himself, he threw his glove and spikes into a clubhouse trash bin, vowing to quit. But when Koufax arrived at Dodgertown the following spring, his equipment was polished and waiting for him in his locker.

"I thought you might want these," a clubhouse attendant told him. In 1961, Koufax led the National League in strikeouts and began a six-year stretch during which he would go 129-47.

Had the Orioles experienced the same impulse as Koufax last September, the trash bins at Camden Yards would have been overflowing. But now it's the time for new beginnings. Spring training is here. Pitchers and catchers report today.

Optimists have the floor. But realistically, after five straight losing seasons, what can the Orioles hope for right now?

Here's a list:

The elusive trade for help on offense

After refusing to spend what it took to land free agents Cliff Floyd, Ivan Rodriguez or Jose Cruz, the Orioles have yet to address an offense that scored 667 runs last season, second fewest in the American League.

They have stockpiled their starting pitchers, adding Omar Daal and Rick Helling, along with their already strong relief corps, adding Kerry Ligtenberg. Eventually, that should translate into a trade, especially with Sidney Ponson one year from free agency and the team showing no interest in signing him to a long-term deal.

They still love Kansas City Royals center fielder Carlos Beltran, but the Royals have insisted on acquiring both Rodrigo Lopez and Jorge Julio, who finished second and third, respectively, in last year's Rookie of the Year voting.

The Orioles can hope the Royals lower their demands, or they can try to lure Brian Giles away from the Pittsburgh Pirates. This team hasn't made a trade since dealing John Bale for Gary Matthews, last April, but spring is the time for hope.

"We're certainly going to try [to trade for offense]," Orioles executive vice president Jim Beattie said.

Team starts strong; Hargrove's seat cools

Intentionally or not, the Orioles have left manager Mike Hargrove on the hot seat. He's in the final year of his contract, and the team is coming off one of the worst 36-game stretches in baseball history.

But after replacing vice president for baseball operations Syd Thrift with Beattie and Mike Flanagan this offseason, the entire organization views this as a fresh start. Hargrove appears to have the new administration's full support, probably enough to survive a slow start like last year, when the team opened 4-11.

Still, the team can alleviate a lot of these concerns by starting strong and distancing itself from the end of last season.

"If I go out every day and worry about, 'What am I going to do today to save my job?' then all I'm doing is helping the process become shorter," Hargrove said. "I've got to go out and be true to what I believe in and be true to this organization.

"If I do that and do my job correctly and do it well, then good things will happen. I really believe that. I want to stay here. I'm not ready to get out of the game by any stretch of the imagination. I love it here in Baltimore. I've got a great coaching staff, and I think we've got a great front office now. I know we've got a great owner. I've said that from Day One, and nothing's changed."

At the age of 36, Segui repeats 2000 production

The Orioles would be thrilled if David Segui can just stay healthy most of the season. In the first two years of his four-year, $28 million contract, he played 82 and 26 games. Last May, he underwent surgery to repair a torn tendon in his left wrist and never returned.

By season's end, Segui still had trouble swinging from the right side, but the team is saying he'll be ready to switch-hit this spring. In 2000, the year before the Orioles signed him, Segui hit .334 with 103 RBIs for the Texas Rangers and Cleveland Indians. If he's healthy, and can be anywhere near that good, this team's offense would be much improved.

Hairston duplicates last year's second half

Second baseman Jerry Hairston was one of the few Orioles who finished last season better than he started it.

He hit .234 before the All-Star break, as the team aborted its attempts to make him the leadoff hitter, but .291 after the break.

Hairston's .355 on-base average in the second half was tops among the Orioles' regulars and gave them renewed hope he can assume the leadoff duties. If he can accomplish that in his third full major-league season, it would provide a huge boost.

Batista, Gil and Mora rebound after slumping during the second half

Tony Batista was an All-Star last season, Geronimo Gil took over the Orioles' everyday catching job and Melvin Mora might have been the club's first-half MVP. But Batista's second-half average was 52 points lower than his first-half average, Gil's average dipped 66 points, and Mora's 70.

Fatigue probably played a part, as they each played more games than they had in any previous season. Jay Gibbons and Willis Roberts were among other Orioles who experienced a drop-off in the second half, and the team hopes they're stronger this time around.

D.C. strikes out again

Orioles owner Peter Angelos has to base every financial decision on the prospect of Major League Baseball's moving the Montreal Expos into Washington.

It's tough giving out Jim Thome money - $85 million over six years - when you don't know whether your revenues will be slashed if fans between Baltimore and Washington start supporting the Expos.

A decision on the Expos' future could be reached by July, and if Washington still doesn't get its own team, Angelos could start another spending spree. Next year's free-agent class figures to be much better, with the likes of Miguel Tejada, Vladimir Guerrero and Bartolo Colon.

Sun staff writer Roch Kubatko contributed to this article.

Orioles camp

Today: Pitchers, catchers report

Tuesday: Full squad reports

Feb. 27: Exhibition opener, vs. Florida at Jupiter, Fla., 1:05 p.m.

March 31: Opening Day, vs. Cleveland at Camden Yards, 3:05 p.m.Inside

O's exhibitions

February

Date Opponent Time Site

27 at Florida 1:05 Jupiter

28 Florida 1:05 Fort Lauderdale

March

1 Mets 1:05 Fort Lauderdale

2 at Mets 1:05 Port St. Lucie

3 at Expos 1:05 Viera

4 Twins 1:05 Fort Lauderdale

5 Red Sox 1:05 Fort Lauderdale

6 at Dodgers 1:05 Vero Beach

7 Dodgers 1:05 Fort Lauderdale

8 at Twins 1:05 Fort Myers

9 Marlins 1:05 Fort Lauderdale

10 at Reds 1:05 Sarasota

11 Cardinals 1:05 Fort Lauderdale

12 at Red Sox 1:05 Fort Myers

13 Reds 1:05 Fort Lauderdale

14 at Cardinals 1:05 Jupiter

15 Marlins 1:05 Fort Lauderdale

16 at Marlins 1:05 Jupiter

17 Mets 1:05 Fort Lauderdale

18 at Expos 1:05 Viera

20 at Cardinals 1:05 Jupiter

21 Devil Rays 1:05 Fort Lauderdale

22 at Marlins 1:05 Jupiter

23 Expos 1:05 Fort Lauderdale

24 at Twins 1:05 Fort Myers

25 Cardinals 1:05 Fort Lauderdale

26 Marlins 1:05 Fort Lauderdale

27 at Mets 1:05 Port St. Lucie

28 Mets 6:05 Baltimore

29 at Mets 1:10 New York

All times

All games in Florida except March 28-29

If you go

Ballpark: Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Built: 1962

Orioles' years there: 8

Capacity: 8,340

Dimensions: 332 to left field, 320 to right, 401 to center

Ticket prices: Box seats $14; reserved grandstand $10 (seating under cover); general admission $7 for adults/$3 for 14 and under. Children under 3 do not require game-day ticket.

Purchasing ticketsonline:http://orioles.mlb.com/NAS App/mlb/bal/ticketing/bal_springtraining_tickets_2003.jsp

Purchasing tickets at stadium: Windows are open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. seven days a week. No individual game phone orders are accepted through the stadium.

Purchasing tickets by fax or mail: Call 954-776-1921 to receive an order form. Order forms may also be mailed to the stadium with a check, money order or credit card guarantee.

Purchasing tickets by phone: Call Florida Ticketmaster at 954-523-3309, 305-358-5885 or 561-966-3309. There is a service charge.

Ticket options: For season tickets, group discounts or skyboxes, call 954-776-1921.

Senior discount days: Fans 60 and older can purchase a reserved grandstand seat for weekday afternoon games for $5. Tickets must be bought 24 hours in advance.

What can you bring into the stadium? Stadium policies prohibit bats, umbrellas, cans, glass bottles, jugs, hard coolers and thermoses. They also restrict baggage of any type, including backpacks, duffel bags, briefcases and oversized handbags. You may bring in cameras and cell phones but not large electronic equipment, such as camcorders and laptop computers. Ballpark security reserves the right to inspect all items carried into the ballpark.

Getting into the stadium: Gates open two hours before game time. There are three separate entrances to the ballpark: one for box and reserved grandstand seating, one left-field general admission and one for right-field general admission. There is no re-entry.

Parking: $5. Season passes are available.

Attending practices: Workouts are accessible only before the Grapefruit League schedule begins. Admission is free. Gates open at 9 a.m.

Autographs: Autograph seeking is permitted in the two-hour window before game time. Fans will be allowed down near the field but cannot block the view of someone seated for the game.

Orioles Charity Breakfast: 6:30-10 a.m. Feb. 23 at Fort Lauderdale Stadium. Cost is $15. Includes an on-field autograph session with Orioles players, a photo opportunity with the Orioles mascot and memorabilia auctions. Call 954-776-1921.

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