"And when the season was over this year, I heard the Orioles weren't going to sign Melvin Mora back and I thought, 'That's probably going to be a chance for me to play third base on a team I really want to play [for].'"
Tejada, a six-time All-Star, may find some things to be the same and others to be drastically different upon his return. The 2002 American League Most Valuable Player said that his familiarity with the organization was a big reason why he signed a one-year contract for a $6 million base salary, but he also was astute enough to recognize that the circumstances have changed quite a bit.
When he left, the Orioles were mired in a rebuilding project and had nowhere to go but up. Baltimore sent Tejada to the Astros for a five-player haul before the 2008 season, and made an even bigger splash by sending Erik Bedard to Seattle. Two seasons later, Tejada can sense the changing fortunes of the franchise and is eager to finish what he started in his first stint.
"In Houston, we started an hour later ... and I would always look for the Orioles game," he said. "It's totally different and you can see it. I saw that they have a guy who can be a future [star] for a long time in their catcher [Matt Wieters], and they have [Adam] Jones in center field. They have [Nick] Markakis and you can see all the young pitchers they have that they didn't have when I came here for the first time. This time, it's not about me. It's about everybody. ... They don't have to do much to be a winner here."
"This is my second chance to be a winner. When I got traded, I got the phone call from Andy [MacPhail] and said, 'I'm never going to have bad feelings with the Orioles.'"
-- Miguel Tejada
Andy MacPhail, the team's president of baseball operations, said that he valued Tejada's zeal to compete and thought that he would have a positive impact on the young talent arrayed around him. The longtime executive was struck by the near unanimity in praise of Tejada from virtually everybody he talked to, a factor that only served to sweeten the terms of the deal.
"I don't think in my entire career I have ever seen teammates react more favorably to a player coming back to an organization than I had the privilege of witnessing at FanFest," said MacPhail of the weekend's event. "Brian Roberts, Nick Markakis, they were absolutely giddy. But it really wasn't just confined to the players. Coaches [and] the training staff just could not say enough good things about Miggy -- the energy he brings to the clubhouse, the kind of teammate he is and his desire to win."
And if Tejada may have that kind of intangible effect on the clubhouse, he'll also have the obvious effect of improving the team's depth. Baltimore inked Tejada and Garrett Atkins to one-year deals to give prospects Josh Bell and Brandon Snyder more time to develop, and MacPhail said Tuesday that he doesn't expect Tejada to yield the position to Bell in 2010.
"With the kind of deal we structured with Miguel, I don't know that I would anticipate making the commitment that we made to him and not having him play every day," he said. "I just want to convey to you that we didn't get Miguel with the idea that this is just going to be a few months and then Bell's coming in. That's not at all what we're thinking. We wanted someone out there 162 times -- or as close as we can get to it -- to help our young kids really understand what it takes to compete at this level."
MacPhail also said that he doesn't expect to use Tejada to spell shortstop Cesar Izturis, choosing instead to let the veteran concentrate on his everyday duties at the hot corner. And while MacPhail isn't quite sure where Tejada will bat in the lineup, he seems reasonably satisfied that the two-time AL Silver Slugger Award winner will make his batting order deeper and more dangerous.
Tejada mostly batted cleanup in his first stint with the Orioles, but he slotted second, third, fifth and sixth last season with the Astros. He'll probably reprise that latter role in his return to Camden Yards, flitting around the lineup in order to let the Orioles ride the hot bat. And as far as MacPhail is concerned, the offseason has yielded a far better lineup than he had before.
"It really gives us a flexible, versatile lineup that I think can pose a problem for right-handers and left-handers as well," he said, evaluating his team's offensive core. "I wasn't really satisfied with our production against left-handed pitching as the season wore on last year, and I think with the addition of Miguel and Garrett Atkins, I think we've helped ourselves in that area and still have the flexibility with our left-hand hitters and our switch-hitters to deal with the right-handed part of it."
Tejada, who holds the Baltimore single-season records for both hits (214) and RBIs (150), said that he regards his second stint with the Orioles as a chance to finish some leftover business. The veteran acknowledged that he had his best individual season as an Oriole, and he hopes that he'll see more collective success over the coming campaign.
"I think this is my second chance to be a winner," he said. "When I got traded, I got the phone call from Andy and said, 'I'm never going to have bad feelings with the Orioles. I understand they're getting younger.' ... The only thing I said was 'Thank you' to Andy and to the Orioles for giving me an opportunity. I just said, 'I'm going, but I'm always going to have the Orioles on my mind.'"