- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 18, 2003

BALTIMORE. — Like many other boys in the Dominican Republic, Miguel Tejada — the Baltimore Orioles’ prize free agent signing — grew up dreaming of being a shortstop. It might as well be the country’s official position since so many talented shortstops have come from the Dominican.

It is a proud tradition.

“I grew up admiring Alfredo Griffin,” said Tejada, referring to the great shortstop who played for the Indians, Blue Jays, Athletics and Dodgers from 1976 to 1993. “I would love to watch Alfredo Griffin play. I loved the way he played. He always played hard.”

The Orioles have their own proud tradition at shortstop: Luis Aparicio to Mark Belanger to Cal Ripken to Mike Bordick. The two traditions have never met before — they’ve come close, but for some reason the club whose signature position has been shortstop and the country whose national position is shortstop never quite connected.

At one point, the Orioles had three Dominican shortstops in their farm system lined up behind Ripken, with Manny Alexander the heir apparent. But it turned out he wasn’t the right guy to carry on either tradition.

Yesterday the Orioles introduced the right guy.

It’s doubtful Miguel Tejada will do anything to shame the legacy of the great shortstops from his country or his new team.

He has power numbers (143 home runs, 541 RBI in his last six seasons with Oakland) that outdo any six years Ripken put together. And like the Orioles icon who changed the shortstop position in major league baseball, Tejada is durable. He is riding the longest active streak in baseball, 594 consecutive games. That falls 2,038 games short of the Iron Man.

“I am real happy to be playing on the same field that Cal Ripken played on,” Tejada said after his official introduction at a news conference at the B&O; Warehouse.

But Tejada doesn’t have to be Cal Ripken. If he just continues to be Miguel Tejada, he finally will get his due among the great shortstops in the game today — Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Nomar Garciaparra — and maybe be the first step (an expensive one at $72million over six years) in Baltimore’s effort to return to its once-proud tradition as a model franchise.

“This is a big step for realizing our goals for the organization,” Orioles vice president Jim Beattie said.

They have many more steps to go, such as re-establishing another position the Orioles were once known for — starting pitching. And with Peter Angelos as owner, there remains plenty of skepticism the Orioles can accomplish their goals. But unlike the Albert Belle signing five years ago, the vibrations Tejada gives off are all good.

“I always have respect for the fans,” Tejada said. “That is why I prepare my mind and my body to play in 162 games a year or more in the playoffs. The fans deserve the best we can play. They pay to watch us play, and I want them to go home happy that they have seen a great game.”

Sign this guy. Oh, they already did.

The Orioles are not done signing guys either, and Tejada’s decision to come to Baltimore certainly could influence his friend and countryman, free agent outfielder Vladimir Guerrero (they have the same agent).

“I am not going to tell anyone to come here,” Tejada said. “But I can see how great people are here, and I will tell them that. It is a great city with great people, and if you are going to make a decision, it would be a good one to come here to Baltimore. The right decision. I won’t tell them to come here because they have to.

“I spoke to Vladimir a couple of days ago. It would make a big difference if he came here. It would be an exciting lineup with Pudge [Ivan Rodriguez] or Javy Lopez [the two other players on the Orioles’ shopping list], and we would have a lineup to compete with the Yankees and Red Sox.”

Don’t forget the Blue Jays, Miguel. Everyone seems to be, but the way the Orioles’ pitching staff is constituted now, the addition of Tejada and his friends still means fourth place in the American League East. After this weekend, when a number of players who are not tendered contracts by their teams become available, that pitching staff could change for the better.

Tejada has worn No4 — the number of Griffin — throughout his major league career. That was Earl Weaver’s number, so he couldn’t wear it here. He picked No.10 — the number worn here by third baseman Tony Batista, Tejada’s good friend and godfather to his son.

Batista, contrary to published reports elsewhere, was not offered arbitration by the Orioles and cannot come back or even talk to the team until May. So No.10 was available.

“Number 10 is a lucky number,” Tejada said. “I talked to my wife and my brother and my father this morning, and they told me to use number 10. I know that is Tony’s number. I am going to tell him today. I am really happy to use number 10.”

It was a fateful choice, befitting the tradition. Aparicio wore No11, Belanger No.7, Ripken No.8 and Bordick No.14. Together, they add up to 40. Divide it by the four shortstops and you come up with Miguel Tejada’s new number, one the Orioles hope is indeed lucky.

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