In Baltimore, where Jim Palmer is still called cakes because he had hotcakes before each start, you are what you eat for breakfast. Thus Oriole catcher Mickey Tettleton, the American League's unlikely home run coleader with 13, finds himself being grilled for nutritional guidance behind the batting cage. "What're you eating?" asks Tiger first baseman Dave Bergman. "Don't tell me it's chicken."
"That's Boggs," says Baltimore second baseman Bill Ripken, answering for the tight-lipped Tettleton. "This guy eats Froot Loops like he's Toucan Sam."
The sugar-coated cereal with a tropical bird—Toucan Sam—on its box has been seized on as the source for Tettleton's befuddling burst of power. Entering this season, Tettleton, a 28-year-old switch-hitter, had 33 home runs and 266 strikeouts in 992 at bats. So what gives? Tettleton and his first-place teammates say that his transformation is in equal parts:
"Mickey and I have talked every day about developing a power hitter's mentality," says Oriole hitting coach Tom McCraw. "That is, don't let the strikeouts bother you. He's confident now that if he punches out three times in a game, the fourth time up he'll hit the homer to win it."
The Orioles have shed all reminders of last season, when they began the season with 21 consecutive losses. Since their Opening Day victory in nifty new uniforms that feature an ornithologically correct oriole instead of the cartoon bird that formerly adorned their caps, the players have felt good about going to the park again. "It isn't just me," says Tettleton. "It's a whole new attitude for everyone."
Oriole first baseman Jim Traber, who was also Tettleton's teammate at Oklahoma State, scratches his scalp at the memory of the singles-hitting, base-stealing outfielder he once knew. "I hit in the two-spot and walked a lot," says Tettleton of his college years; now he bats cleanup and steals bases biennially. "I got on base for the hitters behind me. The change just happened—it wasn't something I thought about."
After hitting a career-high 11 home runs in 1988, Tettleton undertook a disciplined weight-lifting program last winter. Then one day in spring training he ate a bowl of a certain fruit-flavored cereal and later belted a ball out of the park. "Every player has his superstitions," says Tettleton, whose breakfasts have been the same ever since.
Although he has remained at 215 pounds, Tettleton has grown considerably stronger since beginning his iron-pumping regimen. "He has actually pushed home runs to the opposite field," says McCraw, a self-proclaimed "cornflakes man." Tettleton's string of cereal killings included a 400-foot shot off Texas's Nolan Ryan and a three-run game-winner surrendered by the Rangers' Cecilio Guante two nights later. Overall he hit eight homers in 16 games between May 11 and May 31.
Tettleton sees no reason why his newfound clout can't continue. If it does, he will finish the season with about 40 home runs and, perhaps, replace Toucan Sam as the bird on the box of the breakfast of home run champions.