- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 2, 2000

BALTIMORE Cal Ripken yesterday expressed sadness about the Baltimore Orioles' trading frenzy that has brought a slew of obscure newcomers to the clubhouse in place of familiar veterans.

"I have been searching inside myself for a reaction," said Ripken, who has been on the disabled list since June 28 with lower back problems. "The best one I can come up with is, it's a harsh reality of baseball. As a player, I shouldn't have a reaction."

The future Hall of Famer has seen the Orioles trade six veterans over a 72-hour period that ended Monday, including two deals shortly before the deadline.

Ripken, always cautious with the media, did not speculate whether the mass turnover will affect his decision whether to play next season. The 19-season Oriole mainstay, who will be 40 on Aug. 24, said his health is the overriding issue right now and added that he hopes to return to the lineup in about two weeks.

Ripken refused to speculate whether the moves were wise, although many fans and media have urged the underachieving Orioles to purge their roster in favor of youth and speed. But he did say it was difficult to watch his friends leave Baltimore. B.J. Surhoff, Will Clark, Mike Timlin, Harold Baines, Charles Johnson and Gabe Molina were dealt between Friday and Monday.

"The process saddens me, it really does," Ripken said. "B.J., I couldn't help but watch his emotions [in Monday's tearful news conference] and well up inside, and feel the same emotions that he felt, and I'm not the one leaving."

Yet Ripken conceded that the veteran Orioles had been disappointing this season, just as they were in 1998 and 1999 after going to the American League Championship Series in 1996-97.

"We were 12, 13 games under .500 and seemingly a long shot to make the playoffs," he said.

Ripken estimates he could be ready to play by the middle of the month. The third baseman has begun more rigorous training exercises over the last few days, and ran in the outfield at Camden Yards before Monday's game.

"I would like to just come back for the last six weeks of the season, play well and have some baseball choices after that," he said.

While Ripken has been able to run, he has struggled moving laterally and doing such things such as rounding bases. He has been running on a treadmill and swinging a bat.

"The most important thing is that the pain, the aggravation of certain movements, has been reduced," said Ripken, who batted .239 with 13 home runs and 43 RBI in 62 games. "So far, the more aggressive movements I made the last few days have been encouraging."

Baltimore manager Mike Hargrove said he would like to have Ripken around to show younger players the right way to approach the game.

"I am at the point in my career where you take it year to year and evaluate as it goes," Ripken said.

What is known is that when he does come back, he will be playing with a vastly different group of teammates than were on the Orioles before he went on the disabled list. He already misses his good buddies, especially Surhoff.

"The friend he has become, the time we spent together talking baseball, the years we had here it's sad," said Ripken, who will travel with the team to Tampa Bay on Friday. "The process, the harsh reality of the sport, many moments are very sad."

Notes Orioles utilityman Jeff Conine missed last night's game to be with his wife, Cindy, who gave birth prematurely to a son, Tucker, last night in Florida. The baby weighed 2 pounds, 8 ounces and measured 13 inches. Conine will rejoin the team Friday in Tampa Bay… .

The Orioles promoted right-hander Jason Johnson from Class AAA Rochester. The 26-year-old, who is 0-8 with the Orioles this season after beginning the season as a starter, will be in the bullpen. In his last five appearances at Rochester, Johnson was 3-1 with a 1.80 ERA.

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