BALTIMORE _ Mike Hargrove knew he'd have to face the Cleveland Indians sooner or later. As far as he's concerned, Opening Day is as good a time as any.
Hargrove was fired as Cleveland's manager last October in the wake of yet another disappointing playoff loss. He latched on with the Baltimore Orioles, and was to formally begin his new job today by facing the team he helped build into a powerhouse.
"Given the choice, I'd probably want it just like it is. It's important to get that obstacle out of the way," he said. "It will be good to see them, good to play them and good to get it over with and move on."
Hargrove planned to shake a lot of hands and swap stories with old friends before the game. He was intent upon winning, too, for reasons that have nothing to do with revenge.
"It's a big game that will draw the interest of a lot of people because of the circumstances, but I think it will be a big game for us because it will help us gauge where we are at the start of the season," Hargrove said.
Sounds like the right thing to say. It's also the truth.
"This is a new life for us here. We don't have time to think about the Indians," said coach Brian Graham, who made the move from Cleveland with Hargrove. "Honestly, this game means a lot to him because it's his debut with the Orioles. I think Mike wants to put his mark on the Orioles as he did with the Indians."
In Cleveland, Hargrove turned a perennial loser into a team that won five straight AL Central titles and twice reached the World Series. His 8 1/2-year run as manager ended after the Indians blew a 2-0 lead in their best-of-5 playoff series against the Boston Red Sox.
Although Baltimore is coming off two straight losing seasons, Hargrove is convinced the Orioles can be a contender _ if they get off to a good start and begin to believe that his year might be different.
It all begins with this three-game series.
"I want to do well, obviously. It would be fantastic if we took three out of three from the Indians," he said. "I'm not totally immune to feelings, but I try real hard not to allow that sort of personal feeling to enter into what I'm doing because it doesn't serve any purpose outside of the fact that it's a little bit of gratification."
Hargrove and Cleveland catcher Sandy Alomar enjoyed plenty of laughs and victories during their eight-plus years together. Alomar might do a double-take when he looks across the diamond Monday and sees Hargrove wearing the Orioles' black and orange.
"It's ironic, facing our ex-manager right away. It will be kind of hard because I have a lot of respect for Mike Hargrove," Alomar said. "I was with him for a long time. He's one of the guys that I came up with, and he was always good to me.
"It will be difficult, but this is a business."
Charlie Manuel, Hargrove's hitting coach in Cleveland since 1994, was named manager of the team soon after Hargrove's dismissal. He will surely engage in a long conversation with his former boss before the game _ and then do everything in his power to ruin Hargrove's debut in Baltimore.
"Yeah, it will be a little different with him over there," Manuel said. "But once the game starts we're going to try and whoop 'em."