MAZATLAN, Mexico - Miguel Tejada has said one of the highlights of his inaugural season in Baltimore was playing with Rafael Palmeiro, a member of the 500-home run club. The Orioles" shortstop sounds even more thrilled knowing a second member of that elite group will be joining him in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., this month when spring training opens.
"I can't wait to see me and Sammy Sosa playing every day together." Tejada said. "Being on the same team with Sammy Sosa is a dream come true. Now, I'm going to be playing with two guys with more than 500 home runs. I'm so excited."
Although Tejada and Sosa have never been teammates, their life struggles and path to the major leagues from their native Dominican Republic are laced with similarities that tested their makeup. Sosa's father died when he was 7, forcing the slugger to shine shoes in the streets of San Pedro de Macoris (east of the capital of Santo Domingo ) to help his mother make ends meet to feed a family of eight. Tejada, raised west of Santo Domingo in Bani, lost his mother when he was a child and shined shoes in the streets from age 6 to help his father feed a family of 12.
When Tejada tried out for the New York Mets in 1992, he was told he was too small to make it to the majors. When Sosa was first scouted in the 1980s, he was told he was too skinny.
"Sammy is like me - he works hard and he just loves to play baseball." Tejada said. "He just likes to have a spot in the lineup every day and do his job."
Fellow Dominican Julian Tavarez, a St. Louis Cardinals reliever, said: "[Sosa is] a gladiator. He plays hard. That's the No. 1 thing about him. I'm just glad I don't have to face him anymore [in the National League]. He's going to be in a [heck] of a lineup."
The Orioles finished third in the American League last season in batting average (.281), fourth in on-base percentage (.345) and sixth in runs (842). Tejada could get plenty of good pitches to hit batting third in the order behind Melvin Mora, with Sosa in the cleanup spot followed by Javy Lopez and Palmeiro. Each of the Orioles" projected 2-6 hitters had at least 20 homers and 80 RBIs a year ago.
"I don't know how many RBIs [the Orioles] want." said Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Miguel Batista, a fellow Dominican who faced Sosa three seasons in the National League while with the Arizona Diamondbacks. 'Sammy still has a lot to offer. He may not hit 50, 60 home runs like he used to, but he can hit 40 home runs. He just has to stay away from injuries."
Batista said at this stage of his career, Sosa couldn't have found a better setting than a return to the AL, where his career began with the Texas Rangers in 1989.
"It's a new chapter in his life - new team and a new league vs. what it was before so many years ago." Batista said. "He just has to keep being Sammy. He can always DH also. I think Barry [Bonds] has even said he wants to play the last few years in the AL because he could DH."
Tejada said Sosa will thrive offensively at Camden Yards, and he looks forward to helping him adjust to living and playing in Baltimore and in the AL East.
"I think he's going to have a great year just because of everything that went on with him last year. He wants to show he can still do it." Tejada said. "He wants to face Boston and New York. Every player wants to face those two because there's a lot of history with those teams and in those ballparks. I think he's going to love it."