SARASOTA, FLA. (AP) - The Baltimore Orioles ran into one final glitch Friday before officially introducing Vladimir Guerrero to a small media gathering in a room outside their spring training clubhouse.
“I just want to make sure it fits,” Showalter said with a grin. “I’ve never had to unbutton a shirt under pressure.”
Considering that it took most of the winter to reach an agreement with Guerrero _ and two weeks to schedule the physical _ one more delay seemed appropriate.
“I’ve only been here a couple days, so I haven’t had a chance to meet a lot of people here. But the people I have met, I’ve been feeling that. I’ve been feeling very much at home, they are like family here,” he said through his agent, Fernando Cuza, who served as an interpreter.
“Hopefully, God willing, I’m going to have a healthy, productive year,” Guerrero said. “I’d like to stay in the lineup like I did last year. If I stay in the lineup, I feel like I can be very productive.”
The nine-time All-Star batted .300 with 29 homers and 115 RBIs for the Texas Rangers last season, but the market dried up for him over the winter. The Orioles appeared to be his only serious suitor, and the two sides reached agreement on Feb. 4.
“I think Fern did a good job convincing me what it was going to take to get him here,” president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail said. “I was concerned, from other clubs’ standpoint, who might jump in maybe later. Maybe somebody who wasn’t involved now could get involved later. And the more we looked at our lineup, talked to (owner) Peter (Angelos), talked to Buck, it was clear that, really Vlad would make us, we thought, pretty solid one through nine.
“So our interest actually increased, and in a lot of respects, we sort of made a pre-emptive move to take him off the market at that time before another market for him started to develop.”
The physical was delayed until Wednesday in Sarasota because of scheduling conflicts involving Guerrero, who has created a noticeable buzz among teammates with his mere presence in the clubhouse.
“I can’t remember in recent memory where we’ve made a signing that has generated as much enthusiasm as this one has,” said MacPhail, adding that the Orioles are now “in excess of $20 million” over last year’s budget.
Guerrero, wearing a black shirt and shorts, played catch with outfielder Felix Pie on one of the back fields. He hit off a tee in the indoor cage, rather than take batting practice. He wore his game face at the press conference, smiling only a few times.
Guerrero laughed when the subject turned to his reputation as an accomplished bad-ball hitter.
“It’s more about keeping your eye on the ball,” he said. “Since I was little, I’ve always swung at bad pitches.”
And done it well. He’s a lifetime .320 hitter with 436 home runs in 15 major league seasons. He is only the 14th player in history to hit at least .300 with 400 doubles and 400 home runs.
“It’s no secret to anybody. Everybody knows what Vladi can do,” said infielder Cesar Izturis. “It’s great to have him on the team. Hopefully, he’ll do something like he did for Texas last year. It will be great.”
The 36-year-old Guerrero has always been comfortable at Camden Yards, which will serve as his new baseball home. He’s a lifetime .333 hitter in Baltimore, with nine homers and 30 RBIs in 32 games.
“Definitely that had something to do with it, knowing the way the team was playing and the park,” he said. “And at the time, I was unemployed.”
The Orioles made room for Guerrero on the 40-man roster by placing reliever Alfredo Simon on the restricted list. Simon is jailed in the Dominican Republic following a New Year’s Eve shooting that left his cousin dead and another man injured. Authorities are waiting for the results of a ballistics test on the gun that Simon turned in a few days after the shooting.
Simon can return to the 40-man at any time but won’t collect his salary or accrue service time while on the restricted list.