- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 24, 2004

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — It was like the old days at Fort Lauderdale Stadium.

Former American League MVP Miguel Tejada arrived at spring training yesterday, and it was reminiscent of when players like Roberto Alomar, Rafael Palmeiro and, yes, Cal Ripken, reported, bringing crowds of fans and media with them. It is one of the rituals of spring training, paying homage to the team’s royalty.

It has not been like that here since Ripken came for his last spring training three years ago, but the juice is back in the Orioles with the additions of Tejada and Javy Lopez and the return of Palmeiro.

As the fans cheered and clamored for a look at Tejada — who talked several times about what it meant to play on the team for which Ripken once played — when he took the field for batting practice, manager Lee Mazzilli talked about what it means for a team to have a heavy hitter like Tejada.

“He gives you credibility right away,” Mazzilli said.

That is what the Orioles purchased when they spent $100 million this winter signing their free agent trifecta of stars — Tejada (six years, $72 million), Lopez (three years, $23 million) and Palmeiro (one year, $4 million). They bought back some of the credibility owner Peter Angelos has frittered away through his misguided, egomaniacal administration.

In the past few years, when the pathetic free agents the Orioles have had to settle for, such as Marty Cordova, would talk about winning and playing 100 percent and giving fans their money’s worth or whatever pap they would spew, it had no credibility.

But when the 27-year-old Tejada, the 2002 AL MVP who has played in four straight postseasons with the Oakland Athletics, talks about winning, it has the air of credibility — even faced with the prospects of a team going into the season with a young, unknown pitching staff in baseball’s toughest division.

“This is not a losing team anymore,” Tejada declared of an Orioles team that has suffered through six straight losing seasons, including 91 losses last year. “We are going to be a winning team. We will play like we are champions. We will play hard.”

What about the prospects of facing the Yankees and the Red Sox on a regular basis in the division?

“The Yankees and the Red Sox will force our team to play good baseball. I was in that situation before, when Seattle and Texas had good teams, and we worked hard with a young team that was a losing team my first two years in Oakland, and after that we turned it around,” Tejada said. “We started believing we could do it, and I hope everyone here thinks the same thing.”

Tejada has a chance to be a huge star in Baltimore. He has the numbers of a star player — 156 home runs and 604 RBI in seven seasons, including his MVP numbers of 34 home runs and 131 RBI in 2002 — but he also plays the game with enthusiasm and loves the attention of the crowd.

“I want to make a good show for the fans at Camden Yards,” he said. “I can’t wait to get on the field.”

He couldn’t wait to get on the field yesterday, one day before Tejada, Palmeiro — back from his five-year stint in Texas — and Lopez — come together for the first full workout of the entire squad. Today will be the first time since the days of Alomar, Ripken and Palmeiro that so much star power will be wearing Orioles uniforms.

Of course, some of what Tejada was saying was pure baloney. He said he thought one of the reasons he, Lopez and Palmeiro came to Baltimore was because “this team has a lot of young players.”

Let’s face it, they all came here for the money. But the fact that the Orioles were willing to spend the money — and the players did not treat it like “Confederate money” (Syd Thrift’s lasting legacy to the franchise) — represents a change in direction from ridicule to credibility.

That is what Miguel Tejada brought with him to Fort Lauderdale yesterday.

Welcome back, credibility. You have been gone too long.

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