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Ripken says his return could be 'very close''

By BRUCE LOWITT and Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 25, 2000

BALTIMORE -- The Devil Rays may get to play Cal Ripken this weekend.

The Orioles third baseman, on the disabled list since June 27 with nerve inflammation in his back, says his return is imminent.

"I feel like I'm very close," Ripken told the Baltimore Sun after taking batting practice Wednesday while hitting coach Terry Crowley watched. "I'd like to think it could be the next couple days."

Ripken, who celebrated his 40th birthday Thursday, took a full round of hitting before fielding grounders. He said his lower back felt fine and that he considered asking to be activated for the Orioles' games Wednesday and Thursday in Chicago if his back hadn't stiffened up last weekend.

Ripken said he thought it resulted from pushing himself, rather than a recurrence of the nerve inflammation.

"I just stepped back a little to make sure," he said. "Right now, I feel like I'm where I need to be."

Ripken's return could coincide with the option of infielder Mike Kinkade to Triple-A Rochester. Kinkade, named to the U.S. Olympic baseball team, must be removed from the major-league roster before joining his the teamnext week in San Diego.

Ripken, on the disabled list for the third time in two seasons, will be a free agent after the season. He said a six-week test would tell him if he's able to come back for another season. He said he is not sure if the Orioles plan to re-sign him. Monday he said he would not dismiss the possibility of pursuing free agency "if they don't want me."

Ripken has been participating in the inaugural Cal Ripken World Series youth tournament this week in Mattoon, Ill., and will participate in the Fox Sports Net telecast of the tournament's final game Sunday. Ripken will be in Baltimore and will watch on a monitor and provide commentary from a television booth at Camden Yards.

WHOOPS: With three errors Thursday at Chicago the Orioles have made at least one in 16 consecutive games -- 27 in that stretch. The club record was 12 games in a row. In all, the Orioles have committed 96 errors this season, 21 more than their opponents and 21 more than they committed last season.

SPRING IS IN THE AIR: The Orioles apparently are close to an agreement that will allow them to keep their minor-league camp in Sarasota, only months after they had all but conceded a move would be necessary.

Sarasota has set a Thursday deadline for an agreement. Vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift was in Florida on Wednesday during negotiations.

The Orioles said they thought the city had decided to rezone the area for development of a business park. The team has considered sites in Lantana and Homestead, but Lantana's needs substantial upgrades and Homestead's has logistical problems.

ON THE MEND: Manager Mike Hargrove said he expects injured reliever Alan Mills to pitch a rehab assignment after an upcoming bullpen session. Mills, on the disabled list, threw off a mound Wednesday for the first time since being diagnosed with inflammation of his right shoulder Aug. 11. A bone spur also was discovered.

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