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Jeff Conine: From Crab Cakes to Cheese Steaks

August 29, 2006

By Craig Heist

It doesn't necessarily sound like a baseball analogy, but it certainly was for Jeff Conine after Sunday's Orioles 5-4 win over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays at Camden Yards.After driving in two runs, the second one an RBI double to tie the game in the eighth inning, Conine found out he had been traded to the Philadelphia Phillies for a player to be named later.

It's the second time in his career he has been dealt from the Orioles to a team in contention at the end of August. Back in 2003 he was traded to Florida and the Marlins went on to win the World Series in six games over the Yankees.

The move to Philly is "bittersweet" for Conine. (Mitch Stringer/PressBox)
His reaction was the same Sunday as it was back in 2003.

"It's a little bittersweet," Conine said. "I love it here in Baltimore, but on the flip side you get to go into a pennant race and try to get into the post season one more time."

The 40-year-old Conine has two World Series rings, both with the Marlins, and the chance to get back to post-season play is the driving force behind the player.

"Once you have been there, you want to go back every year because it is the most satisfying, enjoying, exciting time in an athlete's life," he said. "I don't care how many rings you have...every single year you want to do it again because that's clearly what it's all about."

If last was Conine's last hurrah for the Orioles, he went out in style. Saturday, he homered, made a great diving catch in left field and threw out Carl Crawford at home plate to help keep the Orioles close in a game they would win in the ninth. Sunday, he drove in two more runs including the game-tying run in the eighth.

"That's great," Conine said. "Obviously I didn't know if that was going to be the last at bat or the last hit, but you contribute to a win, and that's what I try to do every time I take the field."

"I kind of figured he might do something like that," manager Sam Perlozzo said. "I was hoping he would be the one to put us ahead. That's just a tribute to him, because he's known this was a distinct possibility, and yet he went out there with a level head and helped his team, so that says a lot for him."

Conine's name had been linked in trade talks with the Phillies for about a week, and over the weekend the Dodgers also reportedly showed interest in obtaining his services down the stretch. Conine's contract had been a sticking point, since he has a $2 million vested option which kicks in when he reaches 450 plate appearances. After Sunday's game he had 432.

The Phillies were attracted by Conine's veteran presence in the clubhouse and the fact that he can also play the corner positions in both the outfield and the infield.

"I hope I can lend some experience having been through it a couple of times, to some of the young guys who haven't, and produce," Conine said.

Conine was hitting .265 with nine homers and 49 RBIs as of Sunday, and he leaves behind teammates who hold him in the highest regard.

"I feel like I was one of the guys who helped bring him back," second baseman Brian Roberts said. "I wanted him back, not only as a friend but obviously people know what he brings to the team. That's why he continues to end up on winning teams or teams that are in the hunt at least. So, yea, it's sad for me to see him go, but I am happy that he has an opportunity to go and fight for another pennant. It's awesome."

Jay Gibbons came up to the Orioles in 2001, and Conine showed him the ropes of being a Major League player.

"This is the second time around for this, and I had the same exact feeling," Gibbons said. "He is going to a team that has a chance to win, and hopefully he can do some magic like he did a few years ago. I'm sad to see him go...but hopefully he is off to bigger and better things now."

Conine hopes that's the case, and he is hoping his new teammates understand what it will take down the stretch.

"You hope so," he said. "They're a game and a half out right now and you hope everyone has that fire and hunger to get to the post season."


Last weekend, Chris Hoiles and Doug DeCinces were inducted into the Orioles Hall of Fame.

Known as "Tractor," Hoiles epitomized what it means to be a blue-collar player in a blue-collar town.

Hoiles played ten years for the Orioles and was part of the last great Oriole teams in 1996 and 1997. They made the ALCS both seasons and went wire-to-wire to win the American League East under Davey Johnson. It's the most fun Hoiles had playing baseball.

"Davey Johnson was just a very good manager, probably one of the best I played for," Hoiles said. "He demanded a lot and we gave it to him, but he was a lot of fun too."

A notoriously slow starter, Hoiles had his best year in 1993 when he hit .310 with 29 homers and 82 RBIs.

"I put it all together from the beginning of the season until the end," he said. "I wound up being the O's MVP and getting a lot of accolades that way. I just had a great year. Looking back, had I been able to do that every year, things would have a lot better."

Injuries took their toll late in his career as Hoiles battled hip problems. If not for that, Hoiles feels he could have played three or four more years.

"The hip bothered me for about a year-and-a-half, especially the position I played," he said. "No one knew about it, except for the inside people. I didn't want it to get out. I didn't want excuses and everything else. I knew if it did get out my playing time would diminish. I just didn't want to come off the field, I wanted to be out there playing."

DeCinces, a power-hitting third baseman perhaps best remembered for taking over third base from Brooks Robinson, played nine years for the Orioles.

DeCinces gave Robinson a memorable tribute during "Thanks Brooks Day" on September 22, 1977. A sellout crowd had packed Memorial Stadium to honor Robinson when DeCinces went over to third base, pulled the bag out of the ground and handed it to Brooks.

"It was just something that just happened at the moment," DeCinces said. "I walked over to [then Orioles PR Director] Bob Brown and said, 'Bob, can I do this?' He said, 'That would be great, are you sure you want to do that?' I said, 'Yeah, I really want to give him third base. It's his.' I just kind of went over and picked it up and gave it to him and said, it's an honor to try and take your place."

DeCinces is also known for creating "Oriole Magic." He hit a game-winning homer in the bottom of the ninth inning on June 22, 1979.

"That home run was just another great moment in my career," he said. "a great experience. It wasn't so much hitting a home run to win the game -- I had done that before -- but it was the reaction the fans had and the whole city had. To be a part of that is a very special moment in baseball, and you can ask an Orioles fan and they can almost to this day, tell you where they were and what they were doing."

DeCinces also became the 15th player in World Series history to homer in his first at bat, against the Pirates in 1979.

"Those moments, I can relive those moments over and over again," DeCines said. "It was just a very special time for me."

For Orioles fans, too.

Issue 1.19: August 31, 2006