FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Welcome to the anti-Dodgertown.
Charm and ambience are in short supply at the Baltimore Orioles' spring training complex. Enter the clubhouse on a sleepy morning in March, and the first thing you notice is reliever Chad Bradford soaking in a cramped metal tub that passes for a whirlpool. An hour later, outfielder Jay Payton is getting the kinks worked out on a massage table in the middle of the room.
Modern accoutrements and personal space? Sorry. The last time this facility got a decent upgrade, Anita Bryant was in her heyday as the Florida orange juice queen.
But snippets of optimism can be found if you look hard enough. There are rumblings that the Orioles will move up Interstate 95 to the Dodgers' old camp in Vero Beach in 2009. The new president of baseball operations, Andy MacPhail, has the vision and the authority to finally rebuild the organization the right way. And the Orioles have an exciting, star-potential outfielder in camp in the non-Nick Markakis division.
His name is Adam Jones, and the Orioles spent the better part of two months this offseason prying him loose from Seattle. After an endless barrage of rumors, premature headlines, dickering and CIA-caliber intrigue, Baltimore acquired Jones, reliever George Sherrill and three minor league pitchers from Seattle for left-hander Erik Bedard in early February.
If the camp buzz means anything, the effort was worth it. Jones looks great in uniform at 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds. He once hit 96 mph on the gun as a high school pitcher, and his pegs from center field come in with a searing, businesslike quality and accompanying "hiss."
In batting practice, Jones displays the same strong wrists and raw power he used to hit 25 homers and slug .586 for Seattle's Triple-A Tacoma farm club last season. His speed is also a constant and a weapon in several ways. As the quintessential "long strider," Jones is capable of chasing down balls in the gap and stretching singles into doubles and doubles into triples.
All that's left now is finding a comfort zone amid the discomfort. Ten straight losing seasons have produced an air of cynicism and restlessness among the veterans in the Baltimore clubhouse, with more upheaval just around the corner. The normally congenial Brian Roberts is skittish around reporters these days amid a flurry of Cubs-related trade rumors, and Payton might not be far behind on his way out of town.
So here comes Jones, with his earrings, a trace of cockiness and those Baseball America cover appearances. It's only natural to think he'll strut through the door, oblivious to first impressions, and do or say something to make the veterans roll their eyes, right?
Guess again. Jones is only 22, yet he's sufficiently in tune with clubhouse protocol to keep his profile low and ease in slowly.
"I'm a big fan of Adam," said first baseman Kevin Millar. "He's got a confidence and talent about him that you respect, and he doesn't come in here yipping and yapping like he's been around for 15 years. There's no prima donna in him, and that's what you look for."
Said Payton: "He's a smart kid, and he gets along with everybody. His personality is to be in the thick of it. He was kind of quiet the first couple of days here, but he's one of the boys now."