- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 25, 2002

SEATTLE Travis Driskill would like to believe that his first major league start tonight against the Seattle Mariners isn't a big deal. As the 30-year-old rookie pitcher put it, "There's probably been 1,000 guys before me and there will be 1,000 guys after me."

But Driskill knows better than that, and he knows that while his appearance tonight at Safeco Field likely won't register much reaction from the rest of the baseball world, it does represent a watershed moment in his career.

"I never set myself up for failure, where if I didn't make it I was going to kill myself or anything like that. I was resigned to the fact that it might not happen," said Driskill, a nine-year minor league veteran who finally made it to the majors this season. "But I wasn't going to let that keep me from trying to make it. I was going to work hard and try to do it."

Driskill has been on the Orioles' roster since April 25, pitching exclusively as a long man in the bullpen, from where he provided five innings of no-hit ball on May 8 against the Indians and earned his first career win with two scoreless innings Tuesday night at Oakland. But when No.5 starter Sean Douglass was needed to salvage a burned-out bullpen earlier this week, Driskill got the emergency call to start against the team that won a major league record-tying 116 games last year.

After nine years spent toiling away in the Indians' and Astros' minor league systems, he'll start a major league ballgame.

"You don't see that very often," manager Mike Hargrove said. "You have to believe in yourself to make it there. Travis stayed with it, and I think he should be commended."

Driskill doesn't know what his future holds; he likely won't be needed to make another start. But no matter what happens, he doesn't plan to give up baseball.

"I would have played until someone wouldn't give me a uniform, and it's the same right now," he said. "If I make this start and it's the only one I ever make, I'm still going to be extremely happy with myself."

Day off for Conine

First baseman Jeff Conine, mired in an 11-for-57 slump over his last 14 games, was kept out of the Orioles' starting lineup for the first time last night. He was replaced by Jay Gibbons in the cleanup spot and Ryan McGuire at first base.

Conine, last season's near-unanimous Most Valuable Oriole, hasn't been able to duplicate his 2001 numbers he's batting just .239 with four homers and 27 RBI in 45 games. He's struggled particularly in key situations, posting a .226 average with runners in scoring position, though he's frequently crushed balls right at fielders.

"I don't think I've swung the bat that poorly overall," Conine said. "But regardless, when there's a guy in scoring position and I don't get him in, I haven't done my job."

Hargrove also said Conine has been battling a tweaked hamstring the last four or five days, giving him reason to sit his starting first baseman.

Third baseman Tony Batista is now the only Orioles player to start every game.

A real diehard fan

Safeco Field was barricaded for about an hour yesterday morning after a small airplane attempted to spread the ashes of a deceased Mariners fan on the playing field.

The Cessna prop jet took off from nearby Boeing Field and dropped a bag of ashes toward the ballpark, though it apparently struck the roof and fell on a nearby street. The club, which does not allow such things, called in a hazmat squad to make sure no dangerous materials were in or around the stadium.

Hargrove called it one of the weirdest things he's ever encountered in his baseball career.

"Yeah, it's probably right there," he said, "especially with what's going on in our country since September 11."

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