- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 3, 2002

BALTIMORE Nearly every baseball player at some point early in his career faces a moment in which his character and composure are tested. A moment in which said player proves whether or not he truly belongs in a big-league uniform.

For Baltimore Orioles catcher Geronimo Gil, that moment may have come Monday afternoon. And if the manner in which Gil responded to adversity is an accurate portrayal of the rookie's determination, the Orioles may have found themselves a legitimate big leaguer.

In the first inning of Baltimore's Opening Day game against the New York Yankees, Gil committed a costly error on Derek Jeter's stolen base attempt. Attempting to throw Jeter out at third base, Gil launched the ball into left field, giving the Yankees a 1-0 lead.

One inning later, New York's Shane Spencer stood on first base with two outs, then broke for second. Gil, a 26-year-old making the first Opening Day start of his career, fired a perfect strike to shortstop Mike Bordick, gunning down Spencer to end the inning.

"It just shows the kind of character that he has," teammate Jerry Hairston said. "He could have really gotten down after throwing that ball away. That was a big play for him."

Two innings later, Bernie Williams tried to steal second on Gil, only to be punched out in the same manner as Spencer. The Yankees didn't have another stolen base attempt the rest of the afternoon.

Gil, meanwhile, was just getting warmed up. Moments after throwing out Williams, he came to the plate in the bottom of the fourth with a runner on second and promptly deposited an RBI single to right field. And in his final at-bat of the day, he roped a double down the right-field line, driving in another run to help lead the Orioles to a 10-3 victory.

Gil, a native of Mexico who remains hesitant to conduct interviews in English, was even-keeled following the game.

"This is just one game," he said. "There are a lot more games to go. All of us here expect more from ourselves."

With each passing day, the Orioles are expecting more from Gil, who won a spirited, three-way battle for the starting catcher's job this spring. Acquired last summer from the Los Angeles Dodgers with pitcher Kris Foster for reliever Mike Trombley, Gil is considered a better defensive catcher than veteran Brook Fordyce (last year's regular) and a better offensive catcher than third-stringer Fernando Lunar.

Fordyce, 31, who is in the second year of a three-year, $7.7million contract, figured to be a shoo-in for the starting gig, despite his atrocious season at the plate in 2001 (a .209 average, five homers and 19 RBI).

But Gil impressed the Baltimore coaching staff with both his bat (he hit .333 with a home run and seven RBI) and his glove. And after holding out until two days before the start of the season, manager Mike Hargrove named Gil his No.1 catcher.

The difference, according to Hargrove, might have been the soft-spoken Gil's ability to speak loudly with his actions on the field.

"He doesn't say much when the game's not going on, but he becomes very animated during the game," Hargrove said. "And I don't mean that in a flashy, negative way. He works the pitchers very well, goes to their strengths and has the right amount of excitement to get them going and to get everybody else going. Little things like that infuse energy in everybody."

Gil will likely be in the starting lineup again tonight, when the Orioles play the Yankees in the second game of the season-opening series. And based on what he showed Monday afternoon, don't expect him to turn timid should he make one mistake.

"A lot of people are going to think like that because he's a rookie," outfielder Melvin Mora said. "But he knows how to play this game. He goes out there aggressive every day."

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