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Gibbons Tries To Get Back Into Swing

O's First Baseman Returns From Bout With Pneumonia

By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 24, 2005; Page D04

FORT MYERS, Fla., March 23 -- Generally, Jay Gibbons would view an afternoon at designated hitter as a light day of work. Wednesday, however, was not one of those days.

Gibbons, making his first appearance in the Baltimore Orioles' starting lineup in 11 days since contracting pneumonia, went 1 for 3, singling to left field, popping out to first base and striking out swinging, as the Orioles defeated the Boston Red Sox, 6-1, in a rain-shortened, six-inning exhibition game.

Watched by coach Sam Perlozzo, Jay Gibbons fields a grounder. He had been out of the lineup 11 days. (Luis M. Alvarez - AP)

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By most standards, it was an easy afternoon of action, a relaxing, even lazy, day at the ballpark.

For Gibbons, the team's projected starter at first base, it was a full-bore workout.

Gibbons was so sick last week he didn't emerge from his Fort Lauderdale condominium for five days. He slept in his bedroom at night and, for a diversion, hauled his tired limbs to the living room couch during the day. Last Friday, while his teammates played an afternoon game against the Minnesota Twins in Fort Lauderdale, Gibbons ventured outside for the first time, walking across the street to a strip mall.

He tried to get a haircut, but the salon was full. Instead, he entered a nearby café and ordered a crepe. He took a few bites and realized he needed to lie down.

He went back to his apartment, his journey aborted after about 30 minutes.

"I got back, crawled back on the couch, and fell asleep," he said.

Saturday represented major progress: While most of his teammates traveled here for another game against Boston, Gibbons took batting practice for the first time. His elation at getting back on the field, however, was far surpassed by yet another urge to sleep, which he did, deeply, as soon as he returned to his condo.

His roommate, Brian Roberts, all but barricaded himself from Gibbons, holing himself up in his room and pressing towels against the bottom of the door to ward off the possibility of the exchange of germs. But if Gibbons felt like a pariah in his apartment, he must have felt like a forgotten man on the field. When he went to the plate for the first time Wednesday, the giant scoreboard in center field at City of Palms Park referred to him as "Javier Gibbons."

At the time he fell ill, Gibbons was having a superb spring, hitting .421 in seven games. (His average is down to .391 after his performance Wednesday, along with an 0 for 1 stint pinch-hitting in Tuesday's 12-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.) He is penciled in as the first base starter a year after an injury-filled season in right field, the position Sammy Sosa has assumed. Rafael Palmeiro is expected to be the everyday DH.

"I was frustrated," said Gibbons, who has had back, wrist and hip problems and vision corrected by laser surgery since he was acquired as a Rule 5 pick by the Orioles in 2000. "It's uncontrollable. There's nothing I could have done."

The Orioles sent to Gibbons to a local physician in Fort Lauderdale after he showed up with a temperature of 102 and complained of fatigue almost two weeks ago. Perplexed that Gibbons displayed no other signs of illness -- no congestion, no cough -- the physician, David Onstad, took a chest X-ray.

Upon diagnosing the condition, he gave Gibbons antibiotics and a shot, Gibbons recalled.

"I thought I'd be ready to go in a day, no problem," he said. "But then I couldn't get out of bed for about three days."

Gibbons hoped to be inserted in the lineup this past weekend, but Orioles Manager Lee Mazzilli did not want to overwork him with Opening Day approaching (April 4). Mazzilli said Gibbons looked great Wednesday and would likely start at first in Thursday's game in Fort Lauderdale against the Red Sox.

Gibbons said he was winded after batting practice but found a surge of energy at the start of the game. He said he was pleased to reach base with a single and hoped he would score (he was forced out at second).

That's not to say, however, that he wasn't exhausted by game's end. He might have been the only player looking forward to the 2 1/2-hour ride back to Fort Lauderdale.

"I feel a little tired," he said. "Going on the bus, I'll probably sleep."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company