Aceves' first day brings first positive signs

SARASOTA, Fla. - The media has early clubhouse access this morning, with the doors opening at 7:30 a.m. The Orioles will hold an abbreviated workout because of their annual charity golf outing, the one formerly spearheaded by Jim Johnson.

Third baseman Manny Machado garnered most of the attention yesterday with his first workout of the spring, but eyes also were fixed on pitcher Alfredo Aceves' first bullpen session.

Aceves finally made it to camp, consented to an interview at his locker with three reporters and threw in Group 1 with Chris Tillman and Brian Matusz. He finished ahead of them, needing less work after pitching in Mexico and starting twice in the Caribbean World Series. Later, he hugged and fist-bumped Hall of Famer Jim Palmer as part of an animated greeting and walked off the field with Tillman and Matusz.

He's going to take a while before he can get out from under the microscope.

Aceves brought baggage to Ed Smith Stadium that didn't hold gloves and footwear. It's been well-documented - the suspension in Boston for his outburst in former manager Bobby Valentine's office, the dugout confrontation with Dustin Pedroia, the short fuse and inflated personality.

The guy is a character, to say the least.

The Orioles have wiped his slate clean. The rest is up to him.

"I've learned through the years I make up my own mind about people," said manager Buck Showalter. "Some people are a product of their environment. I'm pretty confident about our environment.

"It's very obvious - Dave (Wallace) and I were talking today - whether it be PFPs and drills and this and that - when he gets on the mound and puts a baseball in his hand and he's pitching, you see why he has been in demand. He had a number of offers and he came here.

"When people start talking about a player, I go (sticks out his hand). A lot of times, you just go, 'OK, I've got it. I can see it. That's why.' Some guys, you don't even bring in here. But we did our homework. I think Dave's a big part of this. Dave speaks fluent Spanish. Listening to him talk to (Aceves), I pick up enough of it, and that means a lot to him."

Talk to some of Aceves' new teammates and they'll concede that he's "out there," but they find it more amusing than alarming. And he made a favorable first impression yesterday in an early meeting.

"He just won the Caribbean World Series," Showalter said. "That's a huge friggin deal. That's big. A lot of them will tell you that's more pressure than pitching in the World Series.

"He told a joke in here. He's engaging, he smiles easily. I found that the better people pitch or hit or field or play, the less that seems to be a distraction."

There's a balancing act of sorts, where Showalter is confident in the environment here but also extremely protective of it.

"Exactly," he said. "That's the weighing. Protective of it, but you're confident of it. Peer pressure is pretty good. My barometer of players is, if they don't care what their teammates think, you've got a problem. That's usually the indicator. But until you've walked a mile in a man's shoes and been in some of his recent environments...

"What are we talking about? What's unusual? I've got some people who think I've lost my mind. But thank God we're not all the same. How boring would it be? I want some personalities. I could find someone who thought Manny was strange. I've had people tell me that J.J. Hardy was this, and he wasn't. I had people tell me Chris Davis was this, and he wasn't. He might have been at one time. I don't know. I just know what he's been here. So, we'll see.

"There have been some good baseball people who have had these guys who have had some bumps in the road. I'm not blind to that. I'm not any smarter than they are, but I'm real confident that, if it's there, we can find it."

Note: Zion Lutheran Church will hold its fourth annual baseball talk at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 19 in the church's sanctuary, 2215 Brandywine Lane, York.

This year's event features Jim Duquette, former vice president of the Orioles and New York Mets and current baseball analyst for Sirius/XM Radio; Mel Antonen, baseball writer for SI.com and MASN and a Sirius/XM talk show host; and Dan Connolly, Orioles/national baseball writer for The Baltimore Sun.

The panelists will discuss the upcoming baseball season - including lots of Orioles' stuff - and will answer questions from the audience. There is no admission fee, but a freewill offering will be taken to benefit the church's youth ministry program. For more information, contact the church at 717-767-4673.

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