The new double play combination speaks

Shortstop J.J. Hardy and second baseman Brian Roberts stepped behind the stage to meet with reporters a few minutes ago.

Hardy is impressed by today's fan turnout.

"This is pretty good," he said. "I don't know how many people it is. They said about 10,000. It sounds like everyone is pretty excited."

That includes Hardy.

"This offseason, I didn't know what was going to happen," he said. "I felt like I was going to get traded. I didn't know where. With all the moves that the Orioles have been making, I'm really excited about it.

"I know they were a great team in the second half last year. I feel like they've gotten a lot better in the offseason with the moves they've made, and I'm just excited to move forward from the last 13 seasons."

Hardy is a free agent after the season and says he's open for "whatever."

"I don't know what's going to happen," he said. "I definitely want to do my part, help the team win and just see what happens from there."

Hardy doesn't know where he'll hit in the lineup.

"I feel like it's a really good lineup one through nine and I feel like there's really not a bad spot," he said.

Hardy is aware of the shortstop shoes that have needed to be filled in the past: Luis Aparicio, Mark Belanger, Cal Ripken, Mike Bordick and Miguel Tejada, to name a few. He's the next man up.

"Growing up, Cal Ripken Jr. was my favorite player," he said. "That's one thing I kind of look forward to, coming here, being someone who's followed him.

"I've met him once. It was a golf tournament out in Arizona. All I could think is he had really big hands."

Roberts senses more optimism around the team than in past years.

"You're starting over. Our record the last two months doesn't count going into spring training. However, the feeling does," he said.

"I don't think you lose the fact that you played really good baseball, the fans are excited, the city's excited and other teams are taking notice that the Orioles played really solid baseball for 2 1/2 months. This is the first time in my nine years that we've had this momentum going into spring training. Usually, it's been a down note, unfortunately, and the offseason has been half-hearted optimism. This year, people have looked back and said, 'Wow, maybe they are building on something.'"

Roberts said his physical condition is "great." No problems with the back.

"I feel as good as I've felt in a year and a half, two years," he said. "I'm excited to get out there and start playing. It took me a little while as the winter went on to get to that point, but once I got there, my workouts have been great. I'm already hitting and throwing and running, doing all that stuff, so I'm excited."

In quiet moments last season, Roberts gauged his health and wondered if his career was over.

"As I continued to get better, I realized that, OK, maybe that door's not being closed yet," he said. "I still feel like I have a lot of great years left, but at the time it became frustrating that you're not 100 percent sure."

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