Day 3: Orioles | Extra Innings
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Growing up in Bani in the Dominican Republic, Miguel Tejada's two favorite players – the shortstops he imitated on his country's hardscrabble ball fields – were Alfredo Griffin and Cal Ripken. He worshipped them the way kids around the world now worship him, the 2002 AL MVP.
Griffin played 18 seasons with four teams. Ripken, however, spent his entire career with one, basically becoming the heart, soul and face of the Baltimore Orioles. When Tejada became a free agent this winter, he was still interested in following his idol's lead and took a big interest in Baltimore.
"To be in a group with Cal Ripken is a dream come true," Tejada said. "It is not about money. It is all about how I am feeling. I feel I am going to be happy in this organization because now I will be seeing Cal Ripken more often. I have chance to ask how he do it to make all those plays, how he did it to play all those games."
Tough break for Cleveland, Toronto, Oakland and Los Angeles, where Griffin played but never made the lasting impression of Ripken.
Cal just won another battle for the O's. He got them their next franchise shortstop.
"The good thing for me [is that] I am going to be walking in the same [clubhouse] Cal Ripken walked in," said Tejada. "It is a dream come true for me to be on the same team as Cal Ripken."
The addition of an MVP free agent is huge for the O's, who have been stuck in fourth place in the AL East for the last six seasons. Tejada has averaged 30.5 home runs the past four years.
"He gives you that credibility factor as a team," manager Lee Mazzilli said.
The continued hero worship is interesting, though. Many major leaguers hold past players in high regard, but Tejada seems still in awe of Cal. Just the chance to be around him, wear the same uniform and play in the same ballpark he once did seems thrilling.
Then there is way he says Cal Ripken, with a deep Dominican accent that makes the words come out "Ka Riffkin."
There even is the fact that Tejada is an every-day guy like Ripken most famously was. Tejada's consecutive game streak is approaching 600, a far shy from Cal's 2,632. Can Tejada, 28, make a run at that?
"I don't think so," he said. "I think nobody is going to break that record. I know I have those games played, but I am not trying to break Cal Ripken's record. I play all those games because I like to play baseball."
He was the World Series MVP in 1983 and the guy who used to slide around puddle-covered tarps during rain delays. These days Rick Dempsey coaches first base for the Orioles, and his players would do well to listen closely to his thoughts on being underdogs.
"You know this is just like when Rick Dempsey came to the Orioles (in 1976) with Scotty MacGregor and Tippy Martinez, Mike Flanagan and all these guys," says Dempsey, the former catcher who is now 53 and still a clubhouse favorite. "Nobody knew who the hell we were, either. And we were up against the Reggie Jacksons and the [Graig] Nettleses of the Yankees; Carlton Fisk and Dwight Evans of the Red Sox and all these big name guys.
"Somehow, we managed to do it – one pitch at a time. It can happen again. I don't care what the names are, there's always a way to beat one ballclub. This is a game of mistakes, and the team that makes the fewest will win. All it is is what's in your heart. This team is different from the Yankees or the Red Sox – these kids want to win."
BALLS AND STRIKES
• While the Orioles' facility here lacks the bucolic appeal of Dodgertown, there is something endearing about the place. Yes, it is located behind a strip mall, an industrial complex and a small airport. And it isn't very modern. But it has that working-class appeal of the Indians' training facility in the movie "Major League." The O's are a blue-collar team anyway. Fort Lauderdale Stadium fits the bill.
• Got together with South Florida standouts Craig Stanke and Mark Swanson on Monday night at Sharkey's Raw Bar and Grill. This is where Stanke is a Norm Peterson character and has built a national reputation (at least in trivia circles) as "St. Ank" on NTN trivia. The guy is good. He finished in the top 10 nationally a bunch of times while never taking his eye off his Coors Light.
• Not knowing all of the ins and outs of the Orioles franchise, we were fortunate to have Joe Christensen, the talented beat writer from the Baltimore Sun to set us on some good story lines. The guy knows his O's. We butchered it from there.
• Fort Lauderdale is home to a high-quality Starlite Diner, which like all good such places serves its full menu 24 hours a day. It also is unique in that it has four locations, two in Florida, two in Russia. Russia? Yeah, Moscow. Not exactly your traditional restaurant expansion business plan, but what the heck. The one in Fort Lauderdale has a picture on the wall of Brad Pitt and Gwyneth Paltrow having dinner in a booth. But not here. The booth is in Moscow.
• Looks like we are going to have to shuffle the tour schedule a bit. Out is that day trip over to check in with the Spring Training camp of the Port-au-Prince Pirates. We'll leave that one to the Marines.
• The weather in South Florida would have been perfect except it was a bit muggy. Just wanted everyone up north to know that.
• In the off chance you were looking for a home in South Miami, you should give our man Tom Evans of J. Poole Associates a call. We got no kickback for this mention, although he wants to give us a four-bedroom beach house if we'd at least consider violating all journalistic ethics.
• Next campaign stop: Jupiter, Fla.
• Total miles thus far: 143.1
• Number of Peter Gammons sightings: 1 and holding
Free-lance writer David Scott contributed to this report.
Dan Wetzel is Yahoo! Sports' national columnist. Send him a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
- Cal Ripken