Hank Bauer, the bright orange bill of his cap pulled down to shield his eyes from the sun, tilted his head back just a mite to scan the sky beyond the palm trees lining Miami Stadium's fences. While attending something like 23 banquets in the off season, Bauer had managed to eat sparingly enough to lose a pound and had smilingly endured the inevitable jokes about his TV hair-spray commercials. Now, following his doctor's advice, he was in his sixth day without cigarettes, down from four packs a day to an occasional lemon drop. The way he sat there cross-legged on the dugout bench, with that disciplined, tough-guy face, he could have been a Marine Corps drill instructor lounging on the barracks steps, considering what torture to inflict on his recruits that day.
But instead of barking he said quietly to the group gathered around him, "I hope it doesn't rain. We need the work." The low-in-nicotine-and-tars manager of the World Champion Orioles had problems other than cigarettes last week. Baltimore is a young team, yet it won the American League pennant by nine games last season and beat the Dodgers four straight in the World Series. What, besides tobacco, could be worrying Bauer? Well, though he did not say so, there was a two-game trip to Puerto Rico coming up, and that would scare anybody. And Frank Robinson's knee was hurting. F. Robby led the league in hitting, homers and runs batted in, but he had had a piece of gristle removed from his right knee in November and there had been some swelling this spring. "We've been taking it easy on Frank," admitted Bauer. Also his pitchers were lagging. Jim Palmer had a sore shoulder. After throwing a shutout against the Dodgers in the Series, he had pitched sparingly this spring. Wally Bunker developed tendonitis in his elbow last July and was on the disabled list awhile before returning to form at the end of the season. He was still a question. Lefty Steve Barber also had tendonitis in his elbow, and he never did get back to normal after a terrific 10-3 start. This spring his elbow had become swollen after each pitching stint. Dave McNally, another young Series hero, was bothered by some swelling in his left knee.
The injury list bothered Bauer, and it also made a distinctly adverse impression on some observers. A gimpy outfielder and a sore-armed pitching staff? Brother, we better bet on Detroit this year. But the rain-interrupted game in Miami that afternoon and the jaunt to Puerto Rico over the weekend helped dispel some of the doubts. McNally worked five innings against the Red Sox and allowed one hit and no runs. Barber was not as sharp—he gave up a run in the three innings he pitched—but his elbow seemed O.K. "I think it's going to be all right," Barber said. To top things off, Frank Robinson showed no limp at all when he raced in, caught a little looper off his shoetops and did a forward roll on the grass.
The Orioles flew from Miami to Puerto Rico with the Pittsburgh Pirates, who many think will be Baltimore's opponents in the World Series next October. The first game between them on the Isle of Enchantment was in Ponce, the Pearl of the South. Both teams stayed at the plush El Ponce Intercontinental Hotel, on a hilltop overlooking the city. Bauer had reserved a suite, which was fine, except that somehow many of the rooms that had been reserved were not available and Bauer had to share his quarters with Baltimore Coach Gene Woodling and two Pittsburgh players. What was once a suite had become a dormitory. Jerry Hoffberger, the Orioles' chairman of the board and president of a large Baltimore brewery, was in Ponce, and his Puerto Rican distributors threw a party for the players by the hotel pool. The beer arrived warm.
The playing site, Paquito Montaner Park, was short on lighting and grass. Near the Pirates' dugout there was a big mound of dirt—delicately garnished with an empty beer can—that is used on other days as a high-jump pit. The Ponce fans were enthusiastic and friendly, and they were dressed in their usual informal way (only aristocrats and ballplayers tuck in their shirts in Ponce). With the grassless field and the cerveza flowing in the stands, the atmosphere was like that of a bullfight. The fans booed loudly when Baltimore's Paul Blair was introduced. Blair had played for rival Santurce this past winter and hit a three-run homer in the ninth inning to beat Ponce in the Caribbean Series.
Wally Bunker pitched the first five innings for the Orioles and allowed four runs and five hits, including two homers—even though Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell, both ailing, did not play for the Pirates. But earlier in the spring he had shut out the Dodgers over five innings, which Pitching Coach Harry Brecheen considers a better indication of what Wally can do. Bunker himself says the arm "is coming along real well." The Orioles won anyway, 8-4, with a seven-run bombardment in the fifth inning. Rookie Mike Epstein, minor league Player of the Year as a first baseman for Rochester last season, drove in two runs. Because Boog Powell is a fixture at first, Epstein has been trying to learn the outfield with so-so success, and he may have to be minor league Player of the Year again, this time as an outfielder, to get his chance with Baltimore.
Saturday afternoon's game was played on the other side of the island, in San Juan's clean, modern (the clubhouses even have showers) Hiram Bithorn Estadio Municipal, named after the first Puerto Rican ever to play in the major leagues. It is the home park of the San Juan Senadores (Senators) and the Santurce Cangrejeros (Crabs). Comfortable among friends this time, Crab Hero Paul Blair got a nice round of applause and huzzahs. The Oriole starter was 25-year-old Tom Phoebus, a native Baltimorean and a rookie. If Jim Palmer's shoulder does not come around (Trainer Ed Weidner says he is not worried), or if one of the other prospective starters—Barber, Bunker or McNally—does not pitch up to expectations, Phoebus may be able to take up the slack. He may force his way into the rotation anyway. Brought up from Rochester late last season, he pitched two shutouts in a row, the first with more than 20 of his relatives in the stands at Baltimore's Memorial Stadium. Going into the Pirate game in San Juan, he had pitched 18 innings in spring training, plus two innings in intrasquad games, and had given up only three runs.
"He's got himself into a good groove now," said Brecheen. "He's been pitching the same way all spring for us. He's got to the point where he can consistently throw strikes."
With an economical right-handed delivery, a good assortment of pitches and seven years of minor-league experience at such places as Bluefield, Leesburg and Aberdeen, Phoebus figures to make it this year. Brecheen and others helped him get a lot of arm-flapping waste motion out of his delivery. A stumpy 5'8" and 185 pounds, he is not as fast as Palmer, but he throws hard enough to have been a strikeout specialist at every stop from Bluefield to Rochester. In San Juan he went five innings, gave up five hits and just one run. Baltimore won the game 3-1 and also took the five-game Grapefruit League series with the Pirates 3-2, in case you want to make a future-book bet on the World Series.
One of the game sponsors passed out free cans of lighter fluid as the Orioles left their clubhouse and walked through a humid human corridor of fire-hat-wearing fans to the waiting bus, but it is likely that the players were thinking of. more refreshing liquids, like the $3.60 specialty sold in the bar of one of San Juan's luxury beach hotels—a giant mixture of rums, vodka, Grand Marnier and mango juice called The Tropical Itch. It comes complete with a Caribbean backscratcher—made in Japan.