Tejada Looks to Build on Ripken Legacy
By DAVID GINSBURG
The Associated Press
Tuesday, February 24, 2004; 7:38 PM
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Miguel Tejada intends to handle the shortstop position for the Baltimore Orioles in much the same fashion as his childhood idol, Cal Ripken.
Ripken won two MVP awards, set several fielding records, hit for power and helped the Orioles win a World Series before retiring in 2001. His stellar career has provided inspiration for Tejada, who signed a $72 million, six-year contract with Baltimore in December after six years in Oakland.
"The good thing for me is I'm going to be walking in the same clubhouse that Cal Ripken walked in, and I'll have the same feeling," Tejada said Tuesday after checking in to spring training. "That's something that will make me do well for this team."
There is one facet of Ripken's legacy that Tejada has no interest in duplicating: The Iron Man's major league record of playing in 2,632 consecutive games.
Tejada current run of 594 games is the longest active streak in the majors and ranks 20th in major league history.
"I don't think anybody is going to break that record," Tejada said. "I play all those games because I like to play baseball."
He plays it well, too. The addition of Tejada, the 2002 AL MVP, was a landmark signing for a club that has endured six straight losing seasons since its last trip to the playoffs in 1997.
"He gives you credibility right away," Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli said. "As a manager, you want to have a lineup that's out there every day. His history gives me no indication why he should not be. That's the beauty of this kid - you've got to love him because he wants to play every day, every inning, all the time."
Tejada, 27, is an upgrade over his two predecessors, Mike Bordick in 2002 and Deivi Cruz a year ago. Tejada established career highs with a .308 batting average and 131 RBIs in 2002, then rebounded last season from a slow start to hit .278 with 27 homers and 106 RBIs.
Along with fellow newcomers Javy Lopez and Rafael Palmeiro, Tejada should provide a cure for an anemic Baltimore offense that last year ranked 12th in 14-team AL in runs.
Right-hander Sidney Ponson signed as a free agent in January in part because the he knew the Orioles would be a better team with Tejada at shortstop.
"He plays good defense, so he's going to help you a lot there, and he hits 30 home runs, 100 RBIs a year," Ponson said. "He loves winning; a guy who plays with a lot of passion like that is great to have behind you."
Much like Ripken.
"For me, it's my dream come true to be on the same team as Cal Ripken, to be talking about him. It's making me real proud," Tejada said.
Back in Ripken's heyday, the Orioles arranged to have him speak to the media en masse on his first day in camp. Tejada, the Orioles' newest star, received similar treatment Tuesday.
"I know I'm going to mean a lot for this team," Tejada said. "I hope everybody understands I'm not going to be the only one to go in the field. But I'll give 100 percent every day and play hard, and we're going to be a better team this year."
© 2004 The Associated Press