- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 11, 2005

BALTIMORE — Rafael Palmeiro returned to the Baltimore Orioles last night after serving a 10-day suspension for testing positive for steroids. The star first baseman and designated hitter did not play against Tampa Bay, but he did hold an unscheduled pregame press conference before dozens of cameras, microphones and writers.

The tainted slugger refused to answer questions about the nature of the suspension, citing advice from his attorneys. Congress is investigating whether Palmeiro committed perjury when he testified before a House subcommittee March 17 that he had never used steroids.

“Congress is going over all the stuff right now, and I am just going to wait on that situation to be over with,” he said in front of the Orioles dugout at Camden Yards. “The time will come soon, hopefully, that I can explain my situation.”

When the suspension was announced Aug. 1, Palmeiro said he had taken the steroid accidentally. The test was administered in May, but results weren’t announced until the appeals process was completed.

Before the suspension, it had been a season for Palmeiro to savor. The 40-year-old slugger recorded his 3,000th hit July 15, and a banner was hung from the B&O; Warehouse beyond right field to mark the achievement. When news of the suspension broke, the banner was taken down and a celebration planned for Sunday was canceled.

Fans at Camden Yards last night had mixed reaction to Palmeiro’s return.

“I hope [steroid use is] not true,” said Dave Mason, wearing an Orioles hat alongside his wife, Patty, and sons Luke, 10, and Ben, 8. “We are big Orioles fans and big Raffy fans. I hope it is not true for the kids’ sake. We are going to give him the benefit of the doubt.”

Others weren’t nearly as understanding.

Mark Keiveney, his wife, Patty, and three children were vacationing from Boston. Mr. Keiveney, a Red Sox fan, had little sympathy for the fallen star.

“He absolutely disgraced the game,” said Mr. Keiveney, who added that he would boo if Palmeiro got into the game. “He sat there in front of Congress and blatantly lied as far as I’m concerned. That’s it. We love baseball. And it’s not right. He wanted to get where he wanted to get in baseball. And the only way he could do it is cheating.”

But Zev Federer felt the issue of whether Palmeiro took steroids is “irrelevant.”

“The fact that the game came to this point is someone else’s fault,” said Mr. Federer, of the District. “If he did it, what about the guys before him? I don’t blame Palmeiro. He just did what they let him get away with and encouraged him to do.”

Meanwhile, the Orioles tried to move on despite the swirling controversy and media mob. Sam Perlozzo, who became interim manager last week after Lee Mazzilli was fired, is trying to get the focus back on baseball. Perlozzo held a brief team meeting after Wednesday’s game and hopes the firestorm will soon pass inside and outside the clubhouse.

The manager also met with Palmeiro yesterday.

“I just asked him if he wanted to speak to the team, and he said, no, he would rather go around individually,” Perlozzo said. “Emotionally, he has been through a lot, and he thought it would be better if he did that. He said he would tell everyone he was sorry about the distraction. And that’s pretty much it.”

Perlozzo said he will give Palmeiro some time to get back into baseball shape and probably won’t play him for a few days.

Players who spoke about Palmeiro seemed worn down with the situation. Second baseman Brian Roberts told a reporter, “Sorry, I am just tired of talking about it.”

Outfielder David Newhan was braced for Palmeiro’s return and the accompanying media circus.

“Just like you would expect,” he said. “When [Tampa Bay outfielder Alex] Sanchez got caught [in April], it got national attention. I don’t see why it would be any less now. … We’ll see how it plays out. This is Day One. It is getting the attention I thought it would. As I think it should.”

Palmeiro, who spent the suspension with his family, was greeted warmly by most teammates and said he is ready to play again even as the controversy and congressional investigation continues.

“I want to say that I’m happy to be back. I’m anxious to get back on the field and playing the game that I love very much,” he said before batting practice. “I’m just taking it one day at a time.”

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