The guy who pays attention, the guy who follows directions," Baltimore Orioles Manager Joe Altobelli is saying, "has a better chance of making it to the major leagues than the guy who won't brush his teeth in the morning, the guy who won't comb his hair in the morning, the guy who won't take out the garbage for his mom and dad."
This is not exactly the sort of advice most of the pint-sized, would-be Birds have come to hear, and they tug the bills of their Orioles and Little League caps while their parents applaud. Shifting on the lower-box seats of Baltimore Memorial Stadium, these Junior Orioles tap their fists impatiently into their leather palms.
But, as center-fielder Al Bumbry is introduced and stumbles out tangled in microphone cord, they slide forward, wriggling their shoulders under a score of different Orioles T-shirts and clap and whistle. Class is now in session.
More than 1,200 future ballplayers and parents, most wearing miniature uniforms or fan buttons, showed up for yesterday's seventh-annual Junior Orioles Clinic, a free 90-minute course by Birds and coaches in the basics of America's Game.
Altobelli, Bumbry, switch-hitter Ken Singleton, pitching coach Ray "Rabbit" Miller and third-base coach Cal Ripken Sr. discussed the ups (and in ex-catcher Ripken's case, the downs) of big-league ball.
"Catchers are the most important players in the game," Ripken said with a straight face. ("Pitchers," Miller would later disagree.) "The game can't start till we give the sign. And we get to sit down for the whole game -- everybody else has to stand up."
Bumbry, looking straight into a crowd of tow-headed 4-year-olds hefting foot-long mitts, urged, "Don't buy a glove that's too big or too small -- buy a glove that fits!"
"It's not too big," insisted the smaller of two otherwise identical twins, obviously continuing an old argument.
But as popular as Bumbry and Singleton are, the missing Eddie Murray stood a spike taller with most of these fans.
Murray, the broad-shouldered first baseman with the seven-league stance, is the favorite of future first baseman Steven Moul, 8, who plays in an instructional league sponsored by a Herndon McDonald's. And of Essex's Gregg Nelson, 10; and Catonsville's Megan Miller, 11.
Megan, in fact, is part of a coterie of avid Ed-Dee fanatics: the Kennedys, her next-door neighbors. Seven-year-old Little Leaguer George Kennedy puts in a tepid vote for shortstop Cal Ripken Jr., but 5-year-old Davey and red-pinstriped Bobby, 2 1/2, hold up the family standard.
"We promote Eddie at home because he's a team player," said mother Gail Kennedy. "He's not a poor loser, he does his job well . . . he stays afterward for hours to sign autographs. He's a good example of sportsmanship." Kennedy said that around Christmas, when their house burned, her children were most distressed about the loss of Murray-autographed baseballs.
Although much of the talk went over the heads of most, there were some serious students of the game among the older kids. Annapolis left fielder Nicole Hayward, 12, was making a return trip to pick up tips on "just how it really works."
The Alexandria Orioles, in first place in their 12 to 13-year-old division, turned out in force under the direction of Manager Jimmy Gross. He said that even though he goes over and over the basics with his players, it won't have as much impact as the clinic. "These are the pros -- what they say is gospel," he said.
"That was fun," smiles a little girl whose chin, barely visible under an L.A. Dodgers cap, shows the marks of her dusty fingers. "But why didn't they have hot dogs?"