Basking in the shadows

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo! Sports

Day 3: Orioles | Extra Innings

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – In case you missed it – and amid Alex Rodriguez updates, Curt Schilling press conferences and breathless Red Sox-Yankees coverage we fully expect you may have – the Baltimore Orioles made a few moves in the offseason, too.

Such as bringing in power-hitting, defensively gifted shortstop Miguel Tejada from the Oakland Athletics. Not to mention catcher Javy Lopez, who hit .328 with 43 homers and 109 RBI last year for the Atlanta Braves. And, oh yes, they also got ace pitcher Sidney Ponson, veteran slugger Rafael Palmeiro and new manager Lee Mazzilli, fresh off the New York Yankees' bench.

Yet all the talk and all the hype is about those other two American League East teams and the moves they made this winter. As much as Baltimore did to improve itself, New York and the Boston Red Sox did that much more.

Which could be frustrating – if anyone here at Orioles Spring Training cared.

"We don't give two [hoots] about that," first baseman David Segui said with a smile. "We don't care. It makes a good story [but] nobody in the clubhouse thinks about that. You don't win games on paper anyway.

"Look at the Marlins, look at what the Angels did. There is no reason, especially with the strength of the ballclub, we can't be one of those teams, pull something off like that."

In short, sleep on the Orioles at your own risk.

If the Orioles were in the AL Central, they'd be the division favorites and be getting all the attention. Instead they are like the guy who saved up to buy a Mercedes in an effort to impress the neighborhood, only to find out that the guy on each side of him bought a Bentley. So he goes unnoticed.

But he still has a Mercedes.

"If you are going to constantly think about what the other team is going to do or has than you aren't following your program," said Mazzilli, who just months ago was the Yankees' third-base coach. "[They don't] bother me. I know what they have. I've been there. I know what it is like."

For sure there are still limitations here, which is why the Orioles aren't anyone's pick to win the AL East. The payroll should wind up around $50 million, perhaps a quarter of the Yankees and 40 percent of the Red Sox. The pitching staff is still young. Toronto has also gotten better and face it, there's a reason the O's have finished fourth in the division six consecutive years.

But there was a buzz of anticipation in South Florida on Tuesday, the day before the first full-squad workout. With lots of new faces, new stars and a new manager, there is hope of a new day.

"The only thing I say to everybody is this team is not a losing team anymore," said Tejada, the 2002 AL MVP. "We are going to have a winning team, it doesn't matter who we play. We are going to play like a champion. We are going to play hard. All those young guys are going to work hard to be a winner."

And the Yankees and Red Sox?

"Well, you know they are going to be great because they are going to force our team to play good baseball," Tejada said.

If nothing else, this is what's fun about Spring Training. Everyone looks like a champion in late February. Hope springs eternal. A team that hasn't sniffed the playoffs since 1997 can boldly talk about how the favorites should be the ones worrying.

Hey, maybe it gets the team a little more attention. Or then again, maybe the team doesn't even want that.

"I would rather us not be mentioned, kind of sneak up on people," pitcher Buddy Groom said. "Kind of come in through the back door. Put it this way, if they take us lightly they're going to be in trouble. I think we have a good chance to make noise in this division regardless of the Red Sox or Yankees.

"Nobody expects us to win."

Groom is right about that. Nobody expects them to win. But then again, no one thought the Marlins would win, either.

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