As usual, Brian Roberts is leading the Orioles' efforts to raise funds for the University of Maryland Hospital for Children, but the cause is hitting closer to home this season.

During their home opener on Monday, Roberts and the rest of the team modeled baseball seam bracelets that are being sold for $10 each to raise money for the hospital. The bracelets worn by the players and coaches, however, also featured the initials "S.O." in tribute to the club's former community outreach director, Shannon Obaker, who died of cancer at the age of 29 in January.

Obaker coordinated Roberts regular visits to the patients at the children's hospital, a cause he felt strongly about as someone who underwent heart surgery at age 5.

"Shannon was a great advocate for the Orioles' community efforts and was the person who coordinated my involvement with UMHC," Roberts said. "I wanted to do something in her memory, and selling the bracelets gives me the opportunity to do that and raise funds for a worthy cause."

The bracelets are made of black leather with orange baseball seam stitching and include a tag with the outlines of a baseball player and two children. They are available at www.briansbracelet.com.

Jeff Baker waits his turn: Jeff Baker prepares to play as if he is an everyday starter, but chances are he will be used off the bench by Colorado Rockies manager Clint Hurdle.

"The reality is, the guys we have day-in and day-out are the core of this team," Baker told the Rocky Mountain News. "My job is to try and keep us from missing them when they do get a day off."

Baker is doing his job well. As a pinch-hitter in the season-opening series against Arizona, he had a home run, a double and a single. He's also subbed in as a starter in a couple of games and is currently 7-for-11 (.636) with a homer and three RBIs on the young season.

"He is like the sixth man in basketball for us," Hurdle said. "We haven't had a player like that before, who (you) could say was available (off the bench) with thunder. It can make things a lot easier."

Helton admits that Baker's talent will force himself, third baseman Garrett Atkins and outfielders Matt Holliday and Brad Hawpe to the bench at times.

"When you play the way he plays, you know he has to be in there," Helton said. "He's a young guy and needs to play to be productive. We know he's going to be a big part of what happens for us."

Reminder helps settle Burnett: Sometimes, even Major League pitchers get caught up in the adrenaline of pitching in front of a big crowd in a big game.

When Toronto starter A.J. Burnett loaded the bases in his home opener start earlier this week, a visit from pitching coach Brad Arnsberg helped keep him focused.

"Arnie knows me more than anybody, more than myself, so he just came out and he was the one that told me, 'Hey, remember, you can pitch. You don't have to throw. Just make your pitches and let your arm work with natural ability.' I guess I did need it at the time," Burnett told the Toronto Star.

"I made a pitch and got the double play. After that, I calmed down and reminded myself that I could pitch. I don't have to go out there and throw 99 (mph) every time. I started to get ahead and work a little quicker and it worked out."

Burnett allowed six base runners through the first three innings before facing only one batter over the minimum over the next three innings. His ability to get out of jams has left an impression on teammate Roy Halladay.

"He is amazing," he said. "Even when he's not at his best, he's still better than 90 percent of pitchers out there."

Burnett finally left the game in the seventh inning after allowing a home run that put an end to his shutout bid. While leaving the field, he received a loud ovation from the 50,125 fans in attendance.

"It was more the hype and the adrenaline and coming out and firing as opposed to taking a step back and relaxing," Burnett analyzed. "But it was a packed house, it was Opening Day. My emotions were running high and I came out with a W and that's all that really matters."

Byrnes spreads it around, finds success: Through the first week of the season, Arizona outfielder Eric Byrnes is among the National League leaders in hits, multi-hit games and total bases. A key to his success is his approach of hitting to all parts of the field.

"If you watch all the best hitters in the game, Albert Pujols, Manny Ramirez, that's what they do, drive the ball the other way," Byrnes told the East Valley Tribune. "When a pitcher misses in, they'll pull it. When they are going right, it's amazing how they hit the ball to the opposite field."

Byrnes, a right-handed hitter, has hit his two home runs to left field and left-center field. However, his home run to left would probably have gone foul in the past when he was trying to pull everything.

"It was a tough pitch, down and in. It might even have been off the plate. I just happened to get to it," Byrnes said. "By thinking the other way, I was able to keep it fair. By no means do I have it all figured out, but it has definitely opened my offensive game."

Delgado plays small ball: New York Mets first baseman Carlos Delgado is known for his power, not his speed. But with the Philadelphia Phillies employing a dramatic shift against the left-handed power hitter, Delgado couldn't help but notice the third baseman standing where the shortstop would be.

Delgado had one thought: "Bunt."

"I always said, one day I'm going to lay one down. I tried. I tried," Delgado told Newsday. "For the first time in 13 years, I got one down. I saw the third baseman and the shortstop way out, so I thought, 'You know what, I'll try it.' I just wanted to push it past the pitcher."

Delgado put down the bunt to lead off the second inning and easily raced to first base for a hit. Soon there was a giant smile on Delgado's face.

"A great feeling. I didn't even have to run hard to first base," he said with a laugh. "I'll try it again!"

Backe eyes August return: The normal recovery time for a pitcher who has undergone Tommy John surgery is 12 months before they can realistically think they can return to the mound. Houston Astros pitcher Brandon Backe isn't looking like a typical pitcher.

Backe is being cautious, but if he continues to progress as fast as he has since undergoing elbow ligament replacement surgery Sept. 7, he could be back pitching for the Astros in August.

"I'm going to allow them [management] to speculate how far along it's going to be," Backe told Astros.com. "Every day, I just keep giving them everything I can to try to manipulate the program and come back as soon as possible."

If Backe had his way, he would be pitching for the Astros right now. But he knows that would not be realistic.

"I think I'm capable of going out there right now and getting people out," Backe said. "But that's not what I need to do. I need to get out there and pitch seven innings and eat innings up.

"When I come back I'm going to be fresh, and some of these guys will be tired toward the end of the season. The dog days are going to start when I come back. For me, it's going to be Opening Day. I need to prepare myself so I can pick up slack on some of the guys that are struggling."

Backe knows he may suffer a setback, but for now, he believes he is on track to pitch for Houston at some point this season.

"I feel good with the way I'm throwing," Backe said. "Who knows? I can speculate. I can be back sometime in July, or I might not make it at all this year because of some kind of setback I hit down the road. But it certainly looks good to pitch sometime this year."

Wrigley opener special for Floyd: For Chicago native Cliff Floyd, experiencing Opening Day at Wrigley Field as a member of the Cubs was a dream come true.

"I always dreamed about it, but I never once thought that I'd be standing here in a Cubs uniform for Opening Day," Floyd told the Chicago Sun-Times. "The opportunity to play in front of my family before the end of my career is a dream come true."

Despite noting that he "felt like he was going to puke" before the game, Floyd eventually settled in to just enjoy the day. "After my first at-bat, I calmed down a little bit," said Floyd, who had more than a dozen friends and family members in attendance. "Unfortunately, I didn't get a hit, but it felt good.

"The fans [in left field] were outstanding. I threw them a couple of balls. They were hoping I got a hit. I could have made it much better out there. But I think I can get some more hits for them this year."

Buehrle recovered, ready to pitch: Chicago White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle, who was struck just below the elbow on a line drive last week, has been given clearance to pitch his scheduled start today against the Oakland A's.

"I think he's ready to do it," manager Ozzie Guillen told the Chicago Sun-Times. "We're going to keep our eyes close on him. I worry about him getting tight because that's the muscle running [through his arm]. He says he's ready."

Buehrle doesn't mind the fact that Guillen plans to save long reliever Nick Masset to step in just in case Buehrle runs into trouble.

"I hope they're not looking at it [as I've] got 50 pitches or five innings or whatever," Buehrle said. "I hope I make it the entire way. I'm treating it like it's another start."

Cold temps make DH-ing tough for Sheffield: Veteran Detroit Tigers slugger Gary Sheffield is still trying to acclimate himself to being an everyday designated hitter, and says that the cold weather isn't helping him too much.

"Sometimes I come in and ride the bike to try to get a sweat going," Sheffield told Tigers.com. "Because it's hard to get a sweat going in this kind of weather. When you're running around, you kind of perspire a little bit, but when you're DH-ing, you have to try to come up with something."

And that "something" remains a work in progress.

"I'm just trying to figure out different things," he said. "Come back up here, get loose up here and go back in, hit off a tee. I've noticed when I hit off a tee the whole game, you wind up getting tired for that at-bat. So you just pick your spots when you need to get loose. I just have to keep figuring it out."

Hudson off to hot start: The Braves are hoping for a rebound season for Tim Hudson. In his first two starts of the 2007 season, Hudson has given Atlanta everything it could hope for in that regard. Tuesday night, he pitched seven shutout innings, leading the Braves to an 8-0 win over the Nationals.

"I couldn't ask for a better start to my season. As a team we couldn't ask for a better start either," Hudson told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "This game is all about momentum and confidence. Right now, we've got the ball going in the right direction."

Hudson struck out five of the first seven batters he faced and lowered his ERA to 0.64 this season.

"I was getting some good swings and misses with my [split-finger fastball]. That's what I like to see," Hudson said. "Guys were swinging at it like it was a fastball, as opposed to taking it and recognizing it early."

-- Red Line Editorial