- The Washington Times - Monday, March 11, 2002

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. The Baltimore Orioles' mixture of youth and veteran experience has made this a special spring training for Mike Hargrove, who is finally beginning to see the results of his effort to build the struggling franchise into a winner.
"This is one of the better camps I've ever been in, either as a player or manager," Hargrove said. "The group of players we have here work as hard as any I've ever been around. They're also here to learn."
The pecking order has been established. Pitchers Pat Hentgen, Scott Erickson and even 25-year-old Sidney Ponson have taken it upon themselves to provide instruction and guidance to the younger players.
Hentgen, who is returning from elbow surgery, won't be ready to play until at least August. But he was first in line in fielding drills for pitchers yesterday, setting an example for how to handle a comebacker.
Hargrove talks delightedly about a moment last week when Erickson interrupted a drill, stepped in front of pitching coach Mark Wiley and sternly reminded the youngsters to do it right or not at all.
"You love to see something like that," Hargrove said.
"This is the best camp we've had in years," declared Orioles bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks, who's held the job for 25 years. "It's refreshing to see these guys come together as a team. The veterans are taking an active role, taking charge, embracing the young guys and showing them by example."
They're all in this together, working to make something of a team that is coming off a franchise-record fourth straight losing season.
"I noticed it from the very first day. There's more unity, more of a team feeling this season," said Syd Thrift, the Orioles' vice president for baseball operations. "I can see the spirit collectively growing daily. That's the most important thing. We're not rebuilding; we're developing a team."
It starts with Hargrove and trickles all the way down to those players with virtually no chance to begin the season in Baltimore.
"The young are trying hard to impress us," Hendricks said, "but even those guys who don't have a shot are still working in conjunction with what we're trying to do here. That makes it easy for us."
A year ago, the Orioles essentially were a team consisting of Cal Ripken and everyone else. Now it's more of a general blend, to the point that 35-year-old Jeff Conine and 23-year-old Luis Matos walk side by side from one practice field to the next, talking about such topics as running the bases or hitting the cutoff man.
"We have good unity no jerks, no showoffs, no superstars. Just a bunch of good guys," newcomer Marty Cordova said. "I think that will go a long way. This team is going to be a lot better than everybody gives us credit for."
If all goes as planned, this Orioles squad will turn out to be greater than the sum of its parts.
"No one can predict what a team will do. You can only predict what a player can do, to a degree," Thrift said. "The idea is to get everyone melding together, picking each other up. When one plus one becomes better than two, that's when you've arrived."
Meanwhile, Josh Towers pitched four shutout innings and Cordova had two hits and stole home as the Orioles beat the Montreal Expos 6-1.
Towers allowed two hits, walked one and struck out one in his longest stint this spring. The right-hander, projected to be the No. 4 starter in the rotation, has yielded only one run in nine innings over three starts.
Cordova, signed as a free agent in December, was in the middle of a pair of two-run innings that put the Orioles up 4-0 after three innings.
In the second, Cordova followed a one-out single by Jay Gibbons with a ground-rule double off Carl Pavano. After a walk to Tony Batista, Brook Fordyce hit a sacrifice fly, and Cordova stole home on the front end of a double steal.


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