An undrafted free agent out of Bani, Dominican Republic, Miguel Tejada signed with the Oakland A’s in 1993 wth hopes of following in the steps of his childhood idol, Alfredo Griffin. Over a decade later Tejada is already considerd a member of baseball’s top-tier shortstops. But after validating his star-status by winning the 2002 American League MVP Award and being part of the A’s recent postseason run, Tejada, who signed a six-year, $72 million deal in the off-season, is ready to begin a new chapter in his career. BP recently interviewed Tejada about saying good-bye to Oakland, swinging the bat in hitter-friendly Camden Yards and patroling the same postion in Baltimore that for years belonged to Cal Ripken Jr..
Baseball Prospectus: When you run out to shortstop at Camden Yards April 4th for the first time as an Oriole you are going to be in charge of the same position that Cal Ripken Jr. mastered for so many years in Baltimore. What are the things that come to mind when anybody mentions Cal, and do you feel added pressure knowing what he will always mean to the city of Baltimore?
Miguel Tejada: Whenever anybody brings up Cal, I just remember him coming up big in key situations–whether it be with a big hit or his glove on the field. A good percentage of the time Cal was doing something to help his team to win. But the thing that will stick with me for a long time is the way he prepared. Cal was a perfectionist in every aspect of the game, from the way he prepared physically to his routine on game days. I’ve tried to follow that approach to the best of my ability. At the same time I have to go out there and be Miguel Tejada. I can’t worry about the legacy Cal built for himself here.
BP: While you want build your own legacy in Baltimore, it has to be reqarding that you will have Cal around a good amount of the time, right? Have you already started picking his brain?
Tejada: Believe it or not, before I signed the contract it was always a dream to play on the same team as Cal did. I think it’s going to make me a better shortstop having Cal around the clubhouse. If I have any questions on positioning or just playing the ball off the bat at Camden I won’t be afraid to get his opinions. Cal’s mental approach is also something that’s big for me, especially a guy who never came out of the lineup.
BP: Speaking of staying in the lineup you’ve played 162 games for three consecutive seasons. Any secrets to your ability to play on a daily basis?
Tejada: I pride myself on staying in shape so I can handle the demands of the game. I wasn’t a big believer in all those workout methods when I first came up, but there’s no doubt that’s one of the reasons I’ve been able to stay healthy. I’m not a big guy by shortstop standards, however all the running and leg lifting has definitely helped me through the years.
BP: Suprisingly, you suffered a strained leg muscle earlier in camp. Have you had any lasting problems with the injury?
Tejada: Shhh! Don’t even bring that up. It was just one of those things that kind of bothered me–the pain–when it happened. But it went away after a little ice down.
BP: You left a winning situation in Oakland for a Baltimore club that’s averaged 71 wins that the last five seasons. Why?
Tejada: I have nothing but respect for the baseball people in Oakland. But I’m coming to a place with a lot of tradition with good baseball fans. It’s going to be a lot of fun playing in front people that are always on the edge of their seats. I can’t wait.
BP: Are you saying there’s a lack of good baseball fans in Oakland.
Tejada: They know there baseball although maybe the support could have been better. We played in front of a lot of small crowds.
BP:The thought is Baltimore is going to be an improved ballclub, however residing in the AL East with the Yankees and Red Sox, the Orioles might have to settle for third-place, at best. What’s the feeling in the Orioles’ clubhouse?
Tejada: We’re not playing for third-place if that’s your question. A lot of people around baseball may not be talking about the Orioles, but just take a look at all the veteran leadership in this clubhouse. You want to go up to Raffy, Javy or Sidney and tell them we have no shot? That’s not going to work. This isn’t a team that is thinking about losing. We’re going to play like champs and not concern ourselves with the Yankees or Red Sox. We struggled in Oakland my first few years there before the winning came. Believe these guys in here have a winning attitude.
BP: Miguel, you’re going to be hitting in front of Raffy and Javy. I would imagine there could be a few more fastballs coming your way this season, right?
Tejada: It can’t hurt being part of such a powerful batting order. But what I see is really going to be dictated by game situations. I guess if Javy or Raffy are going bad then I might see some pitches to hit. But I think the No. 1 advantage I have is that I’ve seen all these guys–pitchers–before.
BP: Another thing that’s going to help is going from Oakland’s spacious ballpark to the short power alleys in Camden Yards, I would imagine?
Tejada: I may never be a 45-50 home run guy, although you might see my batting average go up a few points. I want to be more selective at the plate and stay away from bad pitches. At times last year I was overswinging and not using all parts of the field. That’s something I want to improve.
BP: A pretty lofty goal for a guy who struck out just 65 times in 636 at-bats last year?
Tejada: Sixty-five times too many.
BP: Miguel, 81 errors in the last four seasons. Any concerns?
Tejada: I’ve worked extra hard this spring on being fundementally sound. I want to stay away from rushing any throws and just focus on making the routine plays. If I can do that I should be alright.
BP: After signing a six-year, $72 million deal there is little doubt all eyes wil be on you to produce in a big way, not to mention the exposure you will get playing on the East Coast as opposed to Oakland. Have you thought about the kind of expectations you will face in Baltimore?
Tejada: I understand people will be watching me closely. But like I said before this isn’t a one man team. I can only worry about what Miguel Tejada does on the field, good or bad. You know what I’m really happy about? A lot of people in the Dominican Republic can get home and see me play. I don’t have to wait all night to see the games. I want to give them something to talk about in my country.
BP: You grew up idolizing Alfredo Griffin in the Dominican. But with the kind of tradition that the country has had in producing major league shortstops–Griffin and Tony Fernandez, to name a few–do you ever get caught up in thinking you will probably join them as one of the best ever at your position?
Tejada: Oh, yeah. Even as a kid I was thought about what it would mean to follow in those guy’s footstep. We’re a very proud country, especially when it comes to baseball. Beyond anything it would be an honor to be mentioned alongside those guys. Those guys are my heroes.
BP: Would you be in favor of an America’s Cup in baseball?
Tejada: That would be a great thing for baseball all over the world. But a lot of these guys play so much throughout the year that I don’t think it’s really possible.
Fernando Ruano, Jr. is a freelance baseball writer based in Miami whose contributions have appeared in the Miami Herald, Palm Beach Post and San Juan (P.R.) Star. He can be reached email@example.com.