Tampa Bay Times from St. Petersburg, Florida on July 20, 1997 · 61
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Tampa Bay Times from St. Petersburg, Florida · 61

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Sunday, July 20, 1997
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www i ww t wwwrmw i w Tfri''T'i m w ww wf ton w w w w w , Baseball 10C TIMES SUNDAY, JULY 20, 1997 EXTRA COMPILED BY JOHN ROMANO CBroiffise domes in GCimigdleme BASEBALL BIZARRE Fans are losing their hair in Seattle, and it's not just because the Mariners are beginning to falter in the AL West. Seattle staged a Jay Buhner Buzz Night on Thursday and invited fans to have their heads shaved, a la the Mariners' slugging outfielder. Participants received a Buhner T-shirt, a reserved-seat ticket to the game and, of course, a free buzz cut. Barbers set up outside the Kingdome beginning at noon and cut steadily for seven hours. By game time, 3,436 fans had gone follicle free in honor of Buhner, including 46 women. Even Mariners closer Norm Charlton got buzzed. Alas, the Mariners lost 9-7 to the Twins in 12 innings (yes, it was a close shave), with Charlton giving up a game-winning home run. While Buhner Buzz Nights have been a big hit for Seattle the past few years, they haven't been kind to the honoree. Buhner is l-for-14 on buzz nights. His career-high 11-game hitting streak ended when he went 0-for-4 Thursday. Trivia time. What active player has the most career saves, and what active player is second in complete games? Hint: It's the same guy. Cardinals pitcher Dennis Eckersley is the active leader in saves with 374 and is second behind 1 ' V "4f ri. " g p J .Vt:.JKX WVIfH. JB V Nik. ,;" ttl lllllllll ll ' 11 The first cuts are the deepest: Fans get their heads shaved Thursday on Jay Buhner Buzz Night at the Kingdome in Seattle. The hair ball didn't help the Mariners, who lost to the Twins 9-7. Roger Clemens in complete games with 100. Eckersley moved up in both categories last week when Lee Smith retired and Fernando Valenzuela was released. The Department of Energy would be proud of Astros owner Drayton McLane, but his players are not thrilled with him. To cut down on costs, McLane has the air conditioners in the Astrodome shut off until a couple of hours before game time. That has led to brutal conditions during batting practice. "It's 110 degrees outside and 140 in here," OF Luis Gonzalez said. The Braves have hit eight grand slams, one short of the Na tional League record set by the 1929 Cubs and tied by the 1995 Padres. The major-league record is 10. Blue Jays P Tim Crabtree was excited about getting a care package from an old friend at Michigan State. The box included Spartans hats, T-shirts, shorts and Crabtree's old Michigan State jersey. Crabtree was ecstatic, despite the enclosed note from Dave Pru-den, athletic administrator co-coordinator for the school. It read: "I got the chance to see Mark McGwire hit the fifth-deck bomb off of you in the Sky Dome. Hope all is well." The Rockies made history this month unfortunately. When P Kevin Ritz was put on the disabled list, Colorado tied a major-league record by having the five members of its season-opening rotation go on the DL. The 1985 Cubs were the first team to be so unlucky. "The plague finally hit the last remaining soldier," Rockies manager Don Baylor said. The Padres played in four cities (Denver, San Diego, St. Louis and Miami) and four time zones in six days, from Sunday to Friday last week. IFaraiSes: The bargain off '97 CHART CHAT Pittsburgh's minor revolution Of the 25 players on the Pirates roster, 13 were in the minors a year ago today: P0S. PLAYER WHERE THEY WERE ON 72096 CF JermaineAllensworth CALGARY OF Emil Brown MODESTO P Jason Christiansen CALGARY P Steve Cooke CAROLINA P Francisco Cordova Pittsburgh RF Jose Guillen LYNCHBURG 1B Mark Johnson Pittsburgh C Jason Kendall Pittsburgh P Jon Lieber Pittsburgh P Esteban Loaiza MEXICO CITY P Rich Loiselle TUCSON LF Al Martin Pittsburgh C Keith Osik Pittsburgh SS Kevin Polcovich CALGARY P Ricardo Rincon MEXICO CITY P MattRuebel CALGARY P Jason Schmidt Atlanta OF Mark Smith Baltimore P Clint Sodowsky TOLEDO 3B DaleSveum CALGARY P Paul Wagner Pittsburgh OF Turner Ward Milwaukee P Marc Wilkins Pittsburgh 2B TonyWomack CALGARY 1 B Kevin Young Kansas City Proposed realignment LEAGUE A EAST: Blue Jays, Expos, Mets, Orioles, Phillies, Red Sox, Yankees. SOUTH: Braves, Devil Rays, Indians, Marlins, Pirates, Reds, Tigers. LMGUEB CENTRAL Astros, Brewers, Cardinals, Cubs, Rangers, Royals, Twins, White Sox. WEST: Angels, Athletics, Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Giants, Mariners, Padres, Rockies. A recent sign hanging from the upper deck in Three Rivers Stadium invited owner Kevin McClatchy to swap seats for a night. Demonstrating a rare sense of humor, the Pirates' boss obliged. Don't be surprised if his fellow owners have fantasies about switching seats with McClatchy, too. Backed by the smallest payroll in baseball, the Pirates have been one of the success stories of 1997. Once considered a prime candidate to finish with 100 losses, Pittsburgh reached the All-Star break in first place in the NL Central. Granted, the Pirates have enjoyed equal parts success and luck. While their record has hovered around .500, they have remained in contention because they are in baseball's weakest division. If you're not impressed by that, consider this: Pittsburgh is a .500 team with a $9.1-million payroll. The Cardinals ($44.1-million), Red Sox ($43.1-million) and Rockies ($42.9-million) are below .500 with payrolls nearly five times as big as Pittsburgh's. And the White Sox are paying $54.2-mil-lion essentially for the same results. McClatchy, who caught flak for stripping the roster in the off-season, is rightfully enjoying the run. He talked recently of New York writers coming to Bradenton during spring training to write stories about the Pirates challenging the '62 Mets for futility. "They expected us to be a disaster," McClatchy said. "I think we've proven them wrong." Not that it was incorrect to call the Pirates a long shot. More than half of their current 25-man roster was in the minors a year ago today (see chart). And their two biggest acquisitions Kevin Elster and Joe Randa have been hurt. The Pirates have exceeded expectations with pitching and pluck. Francisco Cordova, Steve Cooke, Jon Lieber, Esteban Loaiza and Jason Schmidt have not been overpowering, but they are the only five-man rotation to not have missed a start this season. The starting lineup is far from fearsome, but the Pirates have had a knack for hitting when it matters. Last week is a perfect example. The Pirates lost big to the Reds on Wednesday and Thursday (7-3, 9-5) but beat the Mets in close games (5-4, 4-3) on Monday and Tuesday. "The bottom line is, we're having fun and we're busting our butts," catcher Jason Kendall said. "We have good chemistry. You have to remember what's going on here. We're rebuilding. This is where it all starts. Hopefully we can get it together now and let it snowball from here." REALITY CHECK: With owners dickering about moving one or two teams to accommodate expansion next year, a radical proposal has arisen (see chart) that would eliminate the American and National leagues and create four geographical divisions. (Heavy sigh.) - fe-,' 'J - -" Vil-.;t JOHN ROMANO BASEBALL Point No. 1: Everyone is jazzed about the excitement interleague play has created among natural rivals. Folks, let's not get carried away over a handful of games. It is a novelty in 1997. It won't be again. Point No. 2: Baseball's lone built-in advantage over the NBA, NHL and NFL is its tradition, so don't trash it. Rivalries are not created strictly by geography but good competition, too. TELL US HOW YOU REALLY FEEL Giants manager Dusty Baker was not impressed by Colorado's acquisition of Cubs P Frank Castillo. Baker said the Giants had a chance to get Castillo and passed. "We'll see how that breaking ball works in that altitude," Baker said. "He might play lights-out, but we're looking for a higher-quality starter." BAD IDEA: Remember how the talk of spring training was the comebacks by thirty-somethings Howard Johnson, Kelly Gruber, Andy Van Slyke and Cory Snyder? None has gotten a big-league hit in 1997. They have been released, retired or mired in the minors. REMEMBER ME?: Dustin Hermanson was hardly in Miami long enough to develop a grudge against the Marlins, but he certainly pitches that way. The Marlins acquired Hermanson in November from the Padres and dealt him to the Expos less than four months later in the Cliff Floyd deal. Hermanson since has thrown 19 scoreless innings against Florida, including his first big-league shutout Tuesday. DOWNHILL SLIDE: Going into this weekend in 1996, Blue Jays 3B Ed Sprague had 24 home runs and 69 RBI. Going into this weekend in 1997, Sprague was at 10 homers and 33 RBI. It's just one more reason Toronto has the worst offense in the, American League. "Everyone feels sorry for me, guys are telling me to work hard, not to get down. I appreciate it, but I don't want anyone's sympathy," Sprague said. "That's the worst part of a slump." DUMB MOVE OF THE WEEK: Not the most popular guy in the Reds clubhouse, manager Ray Knight apparently tried to curry favor among his starting pitchers last week. With Pete Schourek returning from the DL, Knight announced he would go to an unprecedented six-man rotation. "Nobody has pitched bad enough to be knocked out (of the rotation)," Knight said. At the time he said it, Mike Morgan was 3-6 with a 5.29 ERA, Dave Burba was 6-9, 5.30, and John Smiley was 7-10, 5.81. iandberg uses muscle power Jared Sandberg ST. PETERSBURG The miniscule crowds, the early starting times, the practice fields. None of it felt like professional baseball to Jared Sandberg in the Gulf Coast League last year. And frankly, he did not perform much like a pro. A few months out of his Olympia, Wash., high school, the Devil Rays' 16th-round pick in 1996 hit .169 with no home runs in his GCL debut. He averaged a strikeout every three at-bats. "A lot of people struggle in their first year of pro ball," Sandberg says. "I knew I was young, and I knew I had to get stronger in the off-season." Sandberg, 19, found himself a good pair of workout partners. He spent tune in a Washington gym with Diamondbacks prized prospect Travis Lee, who lived nearby. He also spent a month in Arizona working out with his uncle, Cubs second baseman Ryne Sandberg. By the time he arrived at spring training this year, Sandberg had a much more defined muscle structure on his 6-foot-3 frame. The difference is obvious on the field, where Sandberg went into the weekend hitting .304 with a team-leading six home runs and 26 RBI for the Rays' Princeton affiliate in the Appalachian League. "When I got to spring training, I wasn't sure what to expect, but I felt I could open some eyes," he said. "It always comes down to confidence, and I'm feeling good now." Sandberg has done a little of everything in Princeton. He has showed strong defense at second base, a little speed (seven stolen bases) and a lot of pop (.609 slugging percentage). "I knew from watching him in spring training he was going to be my best player," Princeton manager Charlie Montoyo said. "He's hitting, he's playing great defense, he's got power. I knew he would be good but not as good as he's doing now." SPRING FLING: In Las Vegas for other business, Rays managing general partner Vince Nai-moli accepted an invitation to tour the site of a proposed spring training megacomplex for four teams. Naimoli said the visit does not mean the Rays are looking at spring sites, outside St. Petersburg. "I told them up front that I was not there to leverage or negotiate, I just wanted a general knowledge of what they were doing," he said. "If it was a couple of years ago, I might have been more interested, but we're working with St. Peters- DEVIL RA WEEKLY. By JOHN ROMANO burg now, and we're committed to staying in St. Petersburg." The Rays and city officials are close to an agreement that would pump $8.2-million worth of improvements into Al Lang Stadium, the Huggins-Stengel Complex and the Busch training complex. Naimoli said he would be interested in playing a handful of games in Arizona and Las Vegas in the final week of spring training in 1999 and beyond. SHOWTIME: St. Petersburg Devil Rays Rolando Arrojo and Roberto Colina were interviewed last week by ESPN's news show Outside the Lines for a feature on Cuban exiles playing in the United States. The show is scheduled to air at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. . GAMES BEFORE THE GAME: Fans who arrive early for today's St. Petersburg-Kissim-mee doubleheader at Al Lang Stadium can sit on the field and play board games (Battleship, Clue, etc.) and enter a raffle to win the games. The first 140 children 16 and under also will get ice cream sundaes on the field. Gates open at 3:30 p.m. for the 5 p.m. game. TICKET MASTERS: Naimoli is expecting a sellout in 1998 for the entire season. Single-game tickets go on sale Nov. 15, and Naimoli said he expects to sell out every game by the end of November. "This has always proved to be a great walk-up market," he said. "I don't think a walk-up market will happen at Tropicana Field." H00 RAYS: Pitching prospect Bobby Seay, in town during his injury rehabilitation, said it will be another two weeks before the cast is removed from his broken foot. "It's getting old," he said.... With the 1999 All-Star Game apparently headed to Boston, the Rays have released a handful of lower box seats that were being held for the commissioner's office in anticipation of hosting the game. . . . The Rays will meet with a group of season-ticket holders Tuesday night in Sarasota night to get input on various club issues. . . . The Rays' Web page, featuring an interactive tour of the renovated Tropicana Field, is expected to be ready within a month. The Devil Rays Express, the 53-foot trailer packed with interactive displays and team merchandise, will be unveiled this week. EXPANSION DRAFT PREVIEW: MINNESOTA TWINS The Devil Rays will select 35 players from other organizations in the Nov. 18 expansion draft. The Times is taking a weekly look at each organization, speculating on who might be taken and who will be protected. Free agents are not factored in. RP Rick Aguilera SP LaTroy Hawkins 2B Chuck Knoblauch SS Pat Meares SP Brad Radke SP Frank Rodriguez C Terry Steinbach C Jose Valentin OF Marty Cordova OF Torii Hunter OF Matt Lawton DH Paul Molitor SP Rich Robertson IF Scott Stahoviak 2B Todd Walker C Greg Myers: Left-handed hitting catchers are hard to find, and he has plenty of AL experience. IF Ron Coomer: Can play the field and hit with power. RP Eddie Guardado: Left-handed and can get some people out. RP Mike Trombley: Can work out of the bullpen and start if needed. BASEBALL AMERICA TALENT RANKING: 17th NEXT WEEK: Montreal Expos QUOTE OF THE WEEK Jr "I was trying to speed the game up. We had a flight to catch. " -J.T.SN0W Giants first baseman, who made the first two outs in a 1 3-run seventh inning that lasted 52 minutes against the Padres THE ALWEST Here's a brief look at the teams in the AL West, where the Devil Rays may compete next season: With the ANGELS making an early second-hatf run at the division title, team president Tony Tavares said his interest in acquiring Mark McGwire has waned. Taveras said he would rather go after a starting pitcher When Mike Hennepian blew six saves in 37 chances last year, the RANGERS were convinced they needed a new closer. So now $22-million man John Wetteland has six blown saves in his first 25 chances. FACTS AND FIGUStS - - - 3 times Boston's John Valentin has been thrown out by Tigers LF Bobby Higginson while trying to stretch a single into a double, 5.1 7 ERA for supposed White Sox ace Jaime Navarro. 34 age of new Mets GM Steve Phillips, which ties him with Detroit's Randy Smith for baseball s youngest exec. 317 consecutive games played by Astros 2B Craig Biggio, leaving him just 2,093 behind Baltimore's Cal Ripken. 4,538 Cubs' consecutive games without being no-hit, the longest current . streak in the majors. " - -1 mf , m j fJI J

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