With no "words of wisdom" and "a little apprehension," Alan Wiggins opened a new chapter in his life today, on a different coast and in a new baseball organization.
The talented but troubled second baseman from the San Diego Padres put on the uniform of the Baltimore Orioles' Class AAA farm club, the Rochester Red Wings, with the understanding that he would probably be joining the Orioles for their game Thursday in Kansas City.
"I'm just trying not to look too far ahead or too far behind," said Wiggins, who is coming back to baseball following a drug-rehabilitation program for the second time in three years. "I'm just going to give 110 percent. If (people) want to see a player hustle and play hard, that's what they'll see. I'm very, very happy to be in Baltimore."
Wiggins, 27, is as good as there. But for the time being, he was addressing a roomful of reporters at a Rochester airport motel before finding his way to Silver Stadium and donning the Red Wings' No. 15 uniform. "I'm not in 100 percent shape, but I'm almost there," he said. "I don't anticipate a lengthy stay here.
"I'm trying to get my baseball sense back. Covering second, and so forth. You need an aggressive nature to steal bases. You have to want to steal. Once you regain that, that's the key to the thing.
"They want me to get on base, steal bases, generate offense any way I can."
In his debut tonight with the Red Wings, a 10-1 victory over Richmond, Wiggins went one for four with a walk, but was thrown out stealing and made two errors. His hit was a double. He was also thrown out at the plate trying to score from second on a single to right.
"I was just pleased that I saw the ball well at the plate," he said. "My arm feels good. My legs are coming along. So I'm making progress."
The Orioles see in Wiggins, who will be attempting to stay drug free and earn his full four-year, $2.8 million contract, a much-needed leadoff hitter. He stole 70 bases last year with the Padres and 66 the previous year. Last season he batted .258 with 106 runs scored, then hit .364 (eight for 22) against Detroit in the World Series.
But recently, Wiggins' life has been bleak. On April 25 in Los Angeles, he disappeared from the Padres before a game at Dodger Stadium. Two days later he was admitted to a clinic in Minnesota for treatment of cocaine use, his second such treatment in three years. He was batting .054 (two for 37) at the time.
The Padres, saying he would never play for them again, sent him to their minor league team in Las Vegas when his treatment was completed. And they gave him up to Baltimore for little in return, pitcher Roy Lee Jackson, 31, off the Red Wings' staff and a Class AA player to be named. The Padres also agreed to take responsibility for much of the contract if Wiggins has a drug-related relapse.
Whether Wiggins can avoid further trouble with drugs, more than his ability to play second base and lead off, is the question not even he can answer. He agreed that Orioles General Manager Hank Peters' characterization of him as a "high risk" is correct, but said the risk can be "reduced" by a successful "after-care program."
Wiggins said he "feels a whole lot better" now than he did when he came back following treatment after his arrest for possession of cocaine in 1982. "It's just a totally different attitude," he said. "And attitude is a big part of it. Number one, you have to accept the concept of chemical dependency. Once you admit total defeat it's easier to admit there's certain things you can and cannot do. Once you admit it, your attitude is better."
Wiggins would not say how he got involved in drug-taking and declined to give details of his "after-care program." He said only, "It's a disease. It's not a moral issue. It took me a while to learn that for myself."
Besides attempting to recapture his "aggressive nature" on the base paths, Wiggins said he is concerned with people's reaction to him when he appears in uniform. He said he has been encouraged by published reports of players' offering encouragement and by fan reaction he experienced in two games with Las Vegas.
Peters, who attended the news conference, as did Wiggins' attorney from San Diego, Sergio Feria, said of Wiggins, "He's got a road to come back. He has some things to battle for the rest of his baseball career and his life and I think he recognizes that."
Peters said the 6-foot-2, 168-pounder showed no signs of losing any of his playing abilities, according to his reports from his first two appearances.
Wiggins, whose wife Angie is expecting their second child in late July, said, "I just put things in God's hands. Whatever that would be, that's the way things would roll."