The Orioles' first workout today since before the 50-day baseball strike looked more like the second week of spring training than a midseason drill.
As the players descended into their familiar clubhouse at Memorial Stadium, there was much handshaking, backslapping, joking and the same sort of excitement found on the first day of school, or spring training.
"I really missed the guys," said Ken Singleton. "I can't say that I missed baseball that much."
On the field, there were moans during the stretching exercises (normally omitted this late in the season). Pitchers, rather than coaches, pitched batting practice, And the outing lasted 2 hours 20 minutes, at least an hour longer than a typical August workout.
"Oh, I'll probably be sore tomorrow -- one spring training is enough," said Singleton, who said he tried to stay in shape during the layoff by running, but admitted he still felt a little tentative at the plate on his first day back.
But Earl Weaver, the Oriole manager, said he was pleased with the looks of his team and certain they would be in top form by Aug. 10.
"It was a good physical workout.They all look in good shape. The pitchers are a bit ahead of the batters," he siad in the clubhouse after the afternoon workout. "We had five pitchers pitching batting practice the first time around but the batters didn't hit as well as I would have liked."
Today's workout was closed to the public, but the Orioles are opening Sunday's session, which begins at noon at Memorial Stadium.
Only four players on the Oriole roster were not on the field today: outfielder Benny Ayala, pitchers tippy Martinez and Steve Luebber (all out of twon and awaiting flights to Baltimore) and shortstop Mark Belanger, in Chicago for a players association meeting.
Cy Young Award winner Steve Stone, injured shortly before the strike, was on the field today but is still officially on the team's disabled list.
Most of the players said they tried to keep in shape on their own by running, golfing and working out. Only one player weighed in heavier than when the players struck -- Sammy Stewart, by five pounds.
There was little talk to be heard about the strike that had disrupted the season and cost most players thousands of dollars. Doug DeCinces, the Oriole third baseman who is also the American League player representative, said he was glad the strike was finally settled. Asked if he believed the strike were necessary, DeCinces repled: "I felt it wasn't necessary, but it happened as the result of the owners' negotiating tactics at the beginning. Anything you get in a siutuation like this is a giveaway."
Did it feel good to be back in Memorial Stadium after all of those marathon negotiating sessions? "Oh, yes," DeCinces said with a grin.
Like many of his teammates, Singleton said that, although he was glad to be back, the strike had not been for naught.
"We had something to prove," he said. "But once we're back 100 percent the fans are going to see some of the best baseball ever because we want to prove to them tt we were right. We just wanted the same basic freedoms that everyone else has."
Moments later, in his office, Weaver said the same thing. "It was something that had to be done . . . But the game is going to be better that it's ever been before."
The strike and its aftermath have left at least one other Oriole with more inconveniences than an empty wallet and sore muscles. Jose Morales needs a place to live.
"I waited it out and waited it out and four days ago I gave up my apartment," said Morales, who last week moved his wife and three children back to Orlando, yfla., put their furniture in storage and terminated the lease on his three-bedroom Baltimore townhouse. "I didn't think the strike was going to end. There was all of this negativeness. If I had stayed past the 29th I would have had to pay another month's rent."
And Weaver realized today that if the baseball owenrs decide to hold playoffs between the season's first-half and second-half champions, it could push back the World Series a week and he might miss his daughter Kim's wedding on Oct. 24.
"If we're in the World Series and if the series goes six or seven games, there is a chance I might miss my daughter's wedding," Weaver said.
"Don't worry, I'll be there in pocketbook," he added