FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Hired as director of minor-league operations in January, the Orioles' Darrell "Doc" Rodgers knew Steve Bechler only by name. It hung on a magnetic board in his office, along with every other pitcher and position player in the organization.
Eager to meet as many prospects as he could, Rodgers never had the chance with Bechler, who died Monday from complications related to heatstroke.
"I got a lot of insight about him at the memorial service," Rodgers said. "The words that I hear are 'bulldog' and 'competitor.' He wanted the baseball. He didn't want to come off the mound, regardless of the situation. That's probably one of the reasons he got to the big leagues and was in camp this year - ability, and being a fierce competitor."
Rodgers had left the Cincinnati Reds' front office in 1996, which also was the year that one of their pitchers, Randy Donisthorpe, died at the minor-league camp. Donisthorpe, who had asthma, was discovered by his roommate at the team hotel.
"Thank God something like this is rare," said Rodgers, who took a job as the Detroit Tigers' director of baseball administration before returning to the Reds, "but that doesn't make it any easier to deal with."
Players wore a small circular patch on their right sleeve yesterday with Bechler's No. 51, and the number also will be displayed on a panel of the right-field fence.
Stadium workers have begun painting the orange background beside a promotional advertisement for the Orioles.
Cleanup for Conine?
Though hopeful that another bat can be added to the middle of the lineup, manager Mike Hargrove is prepared to insert Jeff Conine into the fourth slot.
Conine inherited the job of cleanup hitter last season before a hamstring injury forced him on the disabled list. Tony Batista replaced him, but he'll slide down the order this season.
"Three, four, five, as long as it's the middle of the lineup," Conine said. "There are a lot of opportunities for RBIs."
Hargrove also envisions David Segui batting third and serving primarily as the designated hitter. Swinging from the right side yesterday, Segui peppered the netting above the left-field fence during batting practice.
"He's swinging the bat good right now, he's moving well, he's working hard and doing all the drills," Hargrove said. "So far, so good. It looks like he's strong and in shape and ready."
DuBose gets in line
If Hargrove decides to keep a third left-hander in his bullpen, Eric DuBose has narrowed the competition in his mind.
DuBose, who made his major-league debut Sept. 19, figures that Buddy Groom and B.J. Ryan aren't going anywhere. He's thrown into a pile with Bill Pulsipher and Mike Mohler, hoping to land on top. It's much easier to get noticed that way.
"We've got a lot of relievers here and it's going to be a tough job making the team in camp," said DuBose, 26, whose contract was purchased from Double-A Bowie on Sept. 16. He appeared in four games with the Orioles, posting a 3.00 ERA.
"Those 15 days I spent with them were big for me. Maybe seeing me in that atmosphere will help. It should be interesting, it should be a lot of fun."
If Hargrove decides to keep 11 pitchers, DuBose's chances are practically nonexistent. Barring a trade, the bullpen should include Groom, Ryan, closer Jorge Julio and right-handers Kerry Ligtenberg, Willis Roberts and Rick Bauer.
"If you don't make it and all of a sudden they decide at the end of the month to go with 12, you've got to be ready for that call-up. You can't get all down because you didn't make the team," DuBose said.
"When you look at it realistically, do I have a chance? Yes, I have a chance. But we have to see how things unfold."
Storming into Series
Fans tired of digging out of the snow might be warmed by the connection between heavy accumulation and the Orioles' prosperity.
The team has produced some of its best seasons when Baltimore's winters have been cruelest. According to the National Weather Service, 22.8 inches of snow fell on Feb. 11-12, 1983 - the last year the Orioles won the World Series. It rated as the area's largest storm until this year's 28.2 inches.
In Feb. 18-19, 1979, 20 inches of snow fell in the city, and the Orioles advanced to the World Series. They won it in 1966, when 12.1 inches were recorded.