John Shelby was sitting on an equipment trunk in a cramped clubhouse in Cleveland, head down, a picture of concentration.

As his teammates milled around, playing cards, sipping coffee and rubbing down bats until batting practice began, Shelby used a pair of nail clippers to take an emblem from a wristband, one stitch at a time.

Seeing him, Eddie Murray walked over and said, "You've got it started. Why don't you use the scissors now?"

Shelby shook his head.

"No," he said. "If I finish too fast, I won't have anything else to do."

On the road, there is almost always time to kill.

He had slept only five restless hours after a tough loss in Cleveland, but promptly at 7 a.m., Mike Flanagan was up.

"No matter what time I go to bed, I'm up at 7," Flanagan said. "Kerry his daughter has done that for me."

He followed a morning routine, rising to look outside, showering, ordering newspapers and breakfast and phoning home.

When he'd finished, he lay down on his bed briefly and after a while thought, "Hmm, almost time for lunch." He was eager for lunch because lunch means it's almost time to go to the stadium, where he can lift weights and talk to someone.

He looked at his watch.

It was 9:30 a.m.

Earl Weaver was sitting in a hotel lobby, one in which he has spent perhaps 100 hours over the course of his baseball career.

"What time is it?" he asked no one in particular.

He was told it was just after 11 a.m.

He grimaced. It's not yet time for lunch, he doesn't feel like napping, he dislikes television and he doesn't sightsee or go to movies.

This day, he made a concession and went back to his room for a short nap. He came downstairs again for lunch, then back for another nap. At 3 p.m., he met his coaches downstairs and took a taxi to the stadium, where he would look over statistics, drink coffee and talk to callers, coaches and reporters for most of the next 4 1/2 hours.

"This crap," he said, meaning life on the road, "is why I got out of baseball in the first place. I'd never been fired, so I never had any time off. Other people had, but the thought of being able to get up in the morning and have a Bloody Mary, then go play golf, then have a couple of beers, then go home to dinner with my wife . . .

"I couldn't help but wonder what that was like, and I had to find out if it was all it was cracked up to be."

And?

"It was even better," he said.

To a man, they realize people who haven't been on the road 200 days a year for several years don't understand why they complain.

After all, they travel in their own chartered airplane, one stocked with the coldest beverages and best foods. They stay in terrific hotels, are given $50 a day to spend on food and have buses waiting for them at every turn.

Except that is never as good as it sounds.

Life on the road with the Baltimore Orioles is an endless succession of hotel lobbies, hotel meals and stadium card games. If you've fantasized about how terrific it must be, you haven't been there.

"Killing time," Weaver said. "That's what it's all about."

Not always. When Rich Dauer and Gary Roenicke were with the Orioles in 1985, they went to see movies almost every afternoon, sometimes two movies in an afternoon. Before the summer was over, they would see movies in theaters all over the country, sometimes the same movie three times.

They enjoyed Rambo.

With Dauer and Roenicke gone and Tippy Martinez on the disabled list, Larry Sheets is often left to see movies alone, which he does.

Of all the road trips the Orioles take this year, this one -- three cities in 10 days -- is the hardest on Sheets. His wife Sharon is back in Baltimore, and their first baby is due.

"We think it's going to be a boy," he said, "and we're going to name him Matthew. Sharon said he has stopped kicking, which means he's running out of room. I just hope she waits until we get home."

And there are players who visit museums, see local sites and sample the food from Anaheim to Boston, but after a couple of years, even that loses its thrill.

"The two hardest road trips of the year are the first one and the last one," said Storm Davis, who has a 10-month-old son, Zachary Storm, waiting for him at home. "The first one is tough because you can't believe it's beginning again, and the last one is tough because you can't believe it's finally over and you want it to end."

Up at 9, Dennis Martinez got on his knees for his morning prayers.

He asked for help to make it through another day, and especially help to make it without taking a drink (he's an admitted alcoholic).

He looked outside and saw a heavy cloud cover. Once, Martinez said, he would have assumed this night's game would be postponed and taken that as an excuse to start drinking.

"I probably wouldn't even go to a bar," he said. "I'd just go to a liquor store and buy a bottle. Later in the day, I might go to a bar or a club, but for the first part, it'd just be me and my bottle."

This morning, he ordered, not vodka, but a room service breakfast of bagel and cream cheese, a poached egg, bacon, orange juice and coffee. He lingered over the breakfast, then spent another 30 minutes in the shower, letting hot water run over his right shoulder.

After the shower, Martinez dressed slowly, went downstairs and took a taxi to a local Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.

When he returned, he went to the hotel coffee shop for lunch, then back to his room, where he read his Bible and some AA literature for a couple of hours before catching a cab to Cleveland Stadium.

The hours after the game, the ones that used to be so hard, are easy now. He went back to his room, watched a movie and went to bed.

Storm Davis was up at 9 a.m., and after phoning home, showered, dressed and walked five blocks to a downtown Cleveland shopping mall, The Arcade, where he bought books by Steve Garvey and Tom Seaver.

He came back to the hotel, read briefly and had lunch in the hotel coffee shop.

At noon, he and Scott McGregor got their Bibles and took a cab to Municipal Stadium, where they joined several Indians in an hour-long Bible-study group.

On Wednesday in Chicago, where there is something to do at almost any hour, Earl Weaver is joking about Thursday, a day off in Kansas City. He and coach Cal Ripken Sr. joke about having a morning drink, a concoction that has beer and tomato juice.

"Yeah, it'll be good to have one of those, won't it, Rip?" Weaver asked.

"Yep," Ripken said.

"What are we going to do after that?" Weaver asked.

"Let's have another," Ripken said.

"Okay," Weaver said. "That kills 30 minutes. Now, what do we do? Should we go to the stadium and go over another team?"

Ripken gives him a look that says: What else is there to do?

A lot of their time is spent on chartered airplanes, where they kill time by eating and drinking, playing Trivial Pursuit and cards. The food is served in two courses, beginning with a round of drinks and coach Frank Robinson walking up and down the aisle with a tray of fruits, cheeses and crackers.

Al Bumbry, an Oriole for 12 seasons, had served as a steward on flights, and when he departed, Robinson took his place. Robinson's arrival had coincided with a severe 1985 spring-training diet -- he lost 30 pounds -- and serving food to others didn't allow him time to eat.

That's especially important on longer flights, say, to the West Coast, where there is a third course -- an ice-cream sundae bar.

As might be expected, there are many opportunities for wealthy young men on the road. One player spoke on the condition he not be named.

"All this free time is how players get started in drugs or alcohol," he said. "There are women hanging around some places, and it's the guys who learn how to handle their time on the road who are the guys who make it."

Last season, three Orioles walked into a club on the road and were told a young player was in a back room.

"Do you guys want to join him?" the waitress asked.

When the players went to the back room, they saw their teammate sitting at a table, with two women and a bottle of gin.

"Well, he's not long for this league," a Baltimore player said. "You have to learn to control yourself."

Orioles General Manager Hank Peters said his team is so straight-laced that he seldom worries about incidents with drugs and/or adultery.

He did get mad two years ago when a group of bored players in Texas began going a couple of blocks from the hotel to a water park that featured slides, swimming pools and make-believe beaches.

The players would stay there all day, and at 4 p.m., drag into the visitors' clubhouse at Arlington Stadium, saying something such as, "Whew, I'm too tired to play tonight."

Peters made White Water in Arlington, Tex., one of the few places in the American League off-limits to the Orioles.

"It's a long season, and you do the best you can," said Sheets, who wasn't one of the players involved. "I try to make the best of any situation. I make it a point to find out something about every city. The alternative is to stay in your room and go crazy."