TANNED, FOCUSED AND LOADED/AL EAST

Contrary to rumors floating around the shuffleboard circuit, the
Orioles did not move their Fort Lauderdale spring training camp
down I-95 to Century Village and hire Jack LaLanne as strength
and conditioning coach. Still, they are the oldest team in
baseball, a 162-episode version of thirtysomething. On most
nights second baseman Roberto Alomar, 30, will be the youngest
position player in a lineup with an average age of 34. This is
the team crafted by owner Peter Angelos, whose money and
impatience has brought the Baltimore-Washington area a flashback
to Redskins coach George Allen and his Over the Hill Gang. The
future is now for the Orioles, whose weak farm system has
developed only one every-day starter in the last five years.

What Baltimore, which outdrew every other team except Colorado
last season, has working in its favor is Oriole Park at Camden
Yards--the single biggest influence on baseball in the '90s. Not
only did it strike a retro architectural note that echoes
throughout a stadium building boom, but it also established the
gold standard of revenue sources: a publicly funded,
luxury-suite-packed hitters' park with a sweetheart lease. So
successful is Camden Yards that it has become an attraction for
players as well as fans.

"The first thing you notice is how close the fans are," says
former Blue Jays outfielder Joe Carter, who, after listening to
offers from Anaheim and Minnesota, signed within 24 hours of
hearing from the Orioles. "Sellout crowds every night, a lot of
noise--you know you'll always be juiced to play in that
atmosphere. It makes a difference. Plus, it's 364 feet to left
centerfield."

In addition to Carter, 38, the Orioles added reliever Norm
Charlton, 35, shortstop Ozzie Guillen, 34, and likely fifth
starter Doug Drabek, 35, and brought back DH Harold Baines, 39,
and centerfielder Brady Anderson, 34, whose five-year, $31
million contract pays him past his 38th birthday. "The fan
support I received was unbelievable," says Anderson, who also
fielded offers from Atlanta and Cleveland. "If you go somewhere
else, you have to start all over building a relationship with
your teammates and the fans. I've got so much of my career
invested in Baltimore. I didn't want to leave."

Angelos has taken advantage of the desire of Anderson and
righthanded ace Mike Mussina to remain in Baltimore by signing
them to contracts that are below market value. However, Angelos
will not have that luxury in negotiations with some of his other
stars, who have previously demonstrated a willingness to change
teams. First baseman Rafael Palmeiro, 33, due for free agency
again after the season, has vowed not to "do a Brady." Alomar
also has free agency looming.

Oh, well. Angelos can always turn up some more used
parts--anything to avoid depending on a rookie. (No every-day
Baltimore player has earned a first-place vote for Rookie of the
Year since Cal Ripken Jr. won the award in 1982.) Drabek, for
instance, probably gets a spot in the rotation despite a 5.74
ERA last year. "We looked at him," says one American League
general manager, "but what scared us is that his home runs went
way up and his strikeouts went way down--and now he'll be
pitching in that small park."

Drabek, though, did have his best seasons in Pittsburgh with Ray
Miller, now the Baltimore manager, as his pitching coach. Says
Miller, who finds his team's high mileage more comfort than
concern, "I believe man for man we're as good as anybody. We're
a very good team that could be great."

No one better represents the ball club's identity than Ripken,
who turns 38 in August. Ripken played most of the second half of
last season with a herniated disk that pressed on a nerve, often
causing his left leg to go numb. "You could have stuck a pin in
my leg and I would not have felt it," says Ripken. He sought
information over the winter about the possibility of surgery,
even figuring out a "drop-dead date" on which he could undergo a
procedure and still be in the Opening Day lineup. Ultimately,
Ripken decided to treat the injury with a combination of rest
and exercise.

"I feel great," says the Iron Man. Now that's old news.

--T.V.

COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS LAST HURRAH? Ace Mussina leads an aging team that is loaded with free-agents-to-be and is desperate for one more shot at glory. [Mike Mussina pitching] COLOR PHOTO: RONALD C. MODRA [Norm Charlton]

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)