Indoor lacrosse big-wigs have a monopoly


Mystery man Chris Fritz liked what he was seeing Saturday night from the stage area of the Baltimore Arena.

Fritz is one of the two Kansas City men who own the Major Indoor Lacrosse League (Russ Cline is the other). Fritz, wearing a black suit and dark tie, watched the Baltimore Thunder lose to league champion Detroit, 22-13.

On hand was a sellout crowd of 11,063 -- or 6,331 more than the Skipjacks had drawn to the same building for an American Hockey League game that afternoon.

Fritz is a mystery man because, living in Kansas City, he is seldom seen here. He and his partner, promoters of tractor pulls and rock concerts in the Midwest, own the strangest league in all of professional sports. No one is allowed to see their books. No one knows how much they are making. Simple arithmetic tells us that with crowds the size of Saturday's and with tickets priced at $14.50 and $12.50 -- and players earning a maximum of $350 a game -- the net profit is pretty good.

Fritz and Cline own all seven franchises. As onetime Baltimore Bullet Paul "The Bear" Hoffman put it: "Can you imagine the Orioles and the Yankees and everybody else in the American League all being owned by the same two guys?"

It works, though. Crowds love indoor lacrosse. The players keep playing. Baltimore, in its sixth season in the league, is a solid franchise.

"We have a couple cities we need to strengthen," Fritz was saying. "Pittsburgh. Detroit has picked up. The Saints are drawing well at the Nassau Coliseum. Philadelphia is averaging about 12,500 paid. We're pleased with Baltimore."

What about the players' talk of joining a union?

"Hey, I don't mind if they want to form a players' association," Fritz said. "A players' association is a union. But I can't see them joining the Teamsters Union. I mean, what are these guys, truck drivers or athletes? Nobody's getting rich off this anyway."

Detroit's identical twins, the Gaits, Gary and Paul, are fabulous lacrosse players, indoors or out. They may be even better in the indoor game, since that's the one they played exclusively until they left British Columbia to enroll at Syracuse six years ago.

Paul Gait had eight goals and five assists against the Thunder. Gary had four and five. A giant indoor veteran, Canadian Peter Parke, had three goals.

Detroit was too big and too good. If the Thunder wins its two remaining games at Buffalo March 13 and here vs. Philly March 14, it will clinch the playoffs. Its first opponent would be Detroit, unfortunately.

* Final notice: rally tonight from 7-8 p.m. in Annapolis, Lawyers' Mall opposite State House, to support bill that would make lacrosse Maryland's official state game. The man with the megaphone will be the dauntless John Stude. Bill to be heard Wednesday.

* When Maryland's basketball season opened, coach Gary Williams said of Evers Burns, the junior from Baltimore's Woodlawn High: "This is his year to show what he can do." Evers showed that yesterday in the Terps' 82-80 upset of North Carolina. He had 22 points and six rebounds and afterward, Williams said: "Evers Burns is one of the good inside men playing in the ACC today."

* A month ago Loyola College's basketball team was 5-12 and people were questioning coach Tom Schneider. The team was losing too many close ones.

But the Greyhounds closed their regular season Saturday with their sixth straight win (62-61 over Iona) and a 14-13 record. Particularly since the win over LaSalle here last week, people around Evergreen are praising Schneider for winning the close ones. It's a classic example of the way things tend to balance out.

With 6-8 Michael Reese out of the Iona game with an injury, freshman Brian Pendleton saved Loyola - and not merely with his game winning three-point play with three seconds left. As one coach said of the 6-6, 220-pound Pendleton after the game: "He's a garbage man who's always banging the boards." In hoops language that's a high compliment and simply means he's a player who helps you to win.

As hot as they are, the Hounds are capable of anything in their Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament next weekend in Albany, N.Y.

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