- The Washington Times - Monday, August 7, 2000

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. Cal Ripken was chipper as he talked about his eventual return to the Baltimore Orioles yesterday.

"I'm pain-free and my movements are good," Ripken said while with the team at Tropicana Field. "It's just a matter of keeping up increasing the intensity and seeing how [the back] holds up… . A week ago today, I wouldn't be as encouraged as the way I am now."

The future Hall of Famer, who has been sidelined with an inflamed lower back since June 28, is working out every day and starting to consider a return to the lineup. Ripken said previously that he felt he could be ready to play the last six weeks of the season. With that time frame, he would be on the major-league roster in about two weeks.

"It's nice to think in terms of a timetable now," said Ripken, who turns 40 on Aug. 24. "I'm getting encouraged that time is getting closer. But I wouldn't venture a guess right now. The last two or three days, I did some running from first to third. I did sprints. I was more aggressive on my ground balls. The same with my hitting. I'm starting to tweak it. I'm showing a little less posture than I had been. That's all encouraging."

The third baseman is hitting, fielding and running as part of his daily regimen. Ripken, for the first time since he went on the disabled list, took batting practice with the Orioles on Friday.

The Iron Man said he will put off any decision regarding his return to the Orioles next year. Last week Ripken said he hoped to play well enough at the end of this season to have a "baseball decision" about his future.

One thing that complicates Ripken's return is the discomfort he feels when he flies with the team. The 19-year veteran flew out on the team plane last night to Detroit.

"I didn't have any nerve pain or anything like that," Ripken said of the flight to Tampa Bay. "It just seems you kind of bend a little bit when you wake up the next day after flying. I don't know if that is always going to be the case. Whether you get dehydrated or I don't know what happens. The next day [the back] feels a little bit more stiff and a little bit more sore than it did the day before. It made me think about it. I'm not willing to say it's a problem yet."

It should help that the Orioles have a home-friendly schedule the second half of August. Ripken said that a short rehabilitation stint in the minor leagues may be a possibility, however he is still a way off from having that conversation with Baltimore management.

"A lot has happened in the last week," said Ripken, who was batting .239 with 13 homers and 43 RBI before getting injured. "A lot has happened to make me really encouraged… . But to tell you exactly when [he will return], I can't. But I'm hopeful that I have a big chunk of the season to play."

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