- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 28, 2002

ARLINGTON, Texas In the back of his mind, Mike Bordick knows he and his Baltimore Orioles teammates could be playing their final three games of the season this week. Any ballplayer who says otherwise is lying or in denial.

The Orioles and Texas Rangers opened a three-game series at the Ballpark in Arlington last night, a late August series between two sub-.500 clubs that normally would carry little significance. These, however, are not normal times, and the players can't help but think about Friday's fast-approaching strike date, no matter how much they would rather be focusing on baseball.

"Yeah, but I don't think guys take it on the field with them," said the 37-year-old Bordick, who is contemplating retirement and could see his career come to a premature end this week. "Certainly, once you cross the lines, you have to start preparing yourself to play the game. I know I'm not going to use that as an excuse for the last three games. That's part of being a professional."

Orioles manager Mike Hargrove has been through this before, both as a player and manager, and he knows the temptation to treat these last few days differently than he would under normal circumstances.

In the days leading up to the 1994 strike, Hargrove then managing Cleveland ran things as though it were the final week of September, not the second week of August. The Indians were in a pennant race; had baseball held a postseason, they would have been the American League's wild card.

The 2002 Orioles are hardly in the same predicament. Should the season end Friday, the only thing Hargrove's players have to shoot for is a .500 record (they entered last night's game at 63-66).

"I'm not going to do something different to try to win these next three games," Hargrove said yesterday. "If we were trying to get into the playoffs, we'd run risks, yeah. I'm going to play these games with the idea that we have baseball left after the 30th. And if we don't, then we don't."

Not all is normal in these tenuous days. Right-hander Jason Johnson, Baltimore's player representative, held a brief meeting with his teammates before last night's game, updating them on the status of negotiations.

The Orioles also had to finalize their travel plans for the weekend. The team will depart as originally planned late tomorrow night for Anaheim and their scheduled weekend series with the Angels. Because a strike would not officially start until 3:20p.m. EDT (the starting time for the first game of the day), the Orioles need to be in position to play that night should a last-minute deal be worked out.

Everyone in the Baltimore traveling party packed for a six-day trip, hoping for the best while still fearing the worst.

"I don't really think about it like that," second baseman Jerry Hairston said. "I'm just going to play and not worry about stuff that's really out of my control. I just hope that there's going to be baseball Friday."

Despite the ever-approaching deadline, a number of players don't appear to be overly worried about their immediate futures. Some have even taken to making flippant remarks about the situation.

"We obviously know what Friday means," Rangers star shortstop Alex Rodriguez said. "Hopefully, one day we'll look back and laugh at this because there wasn't a strike."

Rodriguez the game's highest-paid player at $25million a year might be able to afford taking that sort of light-hearted approach. Other less established (and less wealthy) players are facing a far more daunting dilemma, such as Baltimore rookie pitcher John Stephens, who is hoping to use the final month of the season to state his case for a permanent place in next year's rotation.

Ask Stephens for his thoughts on a strike, and you get a far more emphatic answer: "It's going to [stink] if that does happen."

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