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Wednesday, February 23, 2005
Mazzilli to Sosa: Just be Sammy

Associated Press

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- As a way of introducing himself to his new teammates, Sammy Sosa slammed about two dozen baseballs far over the center-field wall during his first workout with the Baltimore Orioles.

Sammy Sosa
Sosa

Before he was done, nearly half the squad interrupted their drills to watch the show.

"Sammy, we're going to run out of balls!" joked outfielder Larry Bigbie, who watched in awe as one shot after another soared onto an airfield behind the practice field.

"They'll be parking the planes in the hangars from now on," Bigbie said later.

The Chicago Cubs were relieved to get rid of Sosa after his troubled 2004 season, and the Orioles are delighted to have him.

"I'm in a new house with a young team that I can help," he said. "I'm very happy to be here, no question. And I can see in their faces that they're really happy for me to be here."

Sosa came to the Orioles earlier this month in a trade that sent Jerry Hairston Jr. and two prospects to Chicago. Sosa once was a hero in the Windy City, but his 13-year stay soured after a series he was caught using a corked bat, had a rift with Cubs manager Dusty Baker and left early during the 2004 season finale.

"That page is closed, and I don't want to touch that page no more," he said. "We're here to move on and go forward."

During his stay in Chicago, Sosa battled with Mark McGwire in a memorable home run duel in 1998, went to the All-Star game seven times and was the 1998 NL MVP. But he contends that the corked bat and his early departure from the ballpark ruined an otherwise wonderful relationship.

"For the 13 years I was in Chicago, I only made two mistakes. That's pretty good," he said. "If I had known that leaving early last year would have caused such a controversy, I would have never done it. My manager told me I had a day off. But what can I say?"

When the Cubs fell out of playoff contention last season, Sosa received much the blame. He spent a month on the disabled list with a bad back and finished with a .253 batting average, 35 homers and 80 RBI -- his fewest since 1994.

Still, 35 homers is more than anyone on Baltimore hit last season, so the Orioles think he'll be a perfect fit in their tiny ballpark at Camden Yards.

Upon arriving in Baltimore three weeks ago, Sosa requested that the Orioles send him a stretch limo at the airport. On Wednesday, he found his way to camp without the aid of a limousine.

He emerged from his white Range Rover at 9:38 a.m., slipped into the clubhouse and had a quick chat with manager Lee Mazzilli before joining his new teammates on the back fields of Fort Lauderdale Stadium.

"I told him, 'I don't want you to just fit in. Be Sammy. I don't want you to change," Mazzilli said.

Sosa created a stir in Chicago with a boom-box that ultimately was destroyed by a teammate. That won't be a problem in Baltimore; Mazzilli does not allow the players to listen to music before games, except through headphones.

"That's the rule and they all go by it," Mazzilli said. "If I listen to your 50 Cent, then you should be able to listen to my Dean Martin."

From the moment he arrived, Sosa was followed by cameramen and reporters. He nearly tripped over a photographer upon emerging from the dugout for the first time, wearing an unfamiliar orange jersey with the familiar No. 21 on the back.

When he was done, Sosa signed autographs in the main stadium.

Had things gone differently last summer, Sosa still might be with the Cubs. Had the New York Mets been more aggressive in their pursuit, he might have been in Port Saint Lucie this spring.

"I think for about a month I was going to the New York Mets. I think God was looking out for me and drive me in the right direction," Sosa said. "I want to come to Baltimore for a lot of reasons. I feel perfect here."