- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 22, 2001

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. Jerry Hairston, all of 24 years old, must look around the Baltimore Orioles' infield and feel like he's in the wrong place.

When the second baseman turns to his left, he sees 34-year-old David Segui, one of the premier defensive first basemen. To his right are 35-year-old Mike Bordick, back with the Orioles after a brief stay with the New York Mets last season, and 40-year-old Cal Ripken, a baseball legend.

Even with Ripken sidelined this spring because of a fractured rib, backup third baseman Jeff Conine is 10 years Hairston's elder.

"Everybody's calling these guys old," Hairston said. "They may be old in age, but physically they're not. Mike Bordick has the body of a 24-year-old. He can play another five to six years if he wants to. Cal, the way he plays this game, he's like an 18-year-old kid running around having a good old time. It's going to be a fun year."

Fun if Baltimore's new-look infield can produce the kind of spectacular defensive plays expected from what could be one of the American League's most reliable groups.

Ripken's defensive prowess is well-known, and if his rib injury proves to be the minor setback he and the team say, the 20-year veteran hopes to play anywhere from 120 to 150 games at third this year.

Bordick returns to Camden Yards after spending the last two months of the 2000 season with the Mets. He committed 16 errors in 156 combined games last year, far fewer than many major league shortstops though equal to the number he had the previous two seasons combined.

Hairston, who played in 49 games last year, gets his first shot as the everyday second baseman this spring. His bat may be a question mark, but his glove is not; the slick fielder committed five errors last season and made it through all 50 games he played in 1999 without one.

That leaves Segui, who returns to the organization with which he began his career from 1990 to 1993. Signed as a free agent after splitting time last year between Texas and Cleveland, Segui is the all-time leader in fielding percentage (.996053) among first basemen who have played at least 1,000 games.

"He's one of the better defensive first basemen in the game today," said manager Mike Hargrove, who heard plenty of good things about Segui from his former colleagues with the Indians, prompting the Orioles to pursue the free agent this winter. "He's a good hitter from both sides of the plate. He's a guy that knows how to win. He doesn't say a lot, but he works hard. He's a professional."

Hardly a slouch at the plate he had 19 homers, 103 RBI, 192 hits and a .334 batting average in 2000 Segui was excited to return to the Orioles and play for a manager who obviously thinks highly of him.

"Yeah, that's a compliment, especially coming from someone who's been around the game for a while and is respected in the game," Segui said. "I played here before, and I enjoyed it. I still have a couple of friends left on the team. I love playing in that ballpark. Those are the things that were attractive to me."

Baltimore's improved infield should do wonders for a relatively young pitching staff that could use the peace of mind of knowing most ground balls are going to be gobbled up by the Orioles' foursome.

"It's going to help our young pitchers," Hairston said. "They won't think that they have to strike everybody out."

Segui doesn't want to rush to any judgments about this group, but he does acknowledge its potential.

"It looks like a solid defensive team," he said. "But we have to go out and do it. That's the thing about spring training. You can speculate and be optimistic, but when it comes time for the games to start, you have to do it."

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