Cardinals remain interested, but O's expect lonely spring

THE BALTIMORE SUN

SARASOTA, Fla. -- After reaffirming their stance against participating in games that include replacement players yesterday, the Orioles are waiting to hear the fate of their exhibition schedule.

At worst, their entire schedule will be lost. At best, it appears that just a handful of games will survive; the Chicago White Sox and St. Louis Cardinals indicated in a teleconference among general managers that they are willing to match minor-leaguers with the Orioles.

However, the White Sox joined the Philadelphia Phillies in becoming the first teams to cancel exhibition games with the Orioles.

"I would imagine we'll hear something [today]," said Orioles general manager Roland Hemond.

Yesterday morning, Hemond faxed a two-paragraph letter restating the club's policy against replacement games to the 11 teams scheduled to play the Orioles in the Grapefruit League. The Orioles, Hemond wrote, would be awaiting reply.

The issue was discussed by the general managers in an afternoon teleconference. According to an executive who participated in the call, the White Sox and Cardinals expressed willingness to play Orioles minor-leaguers.

But the discussion was tabled and referred to the Baseball Operations committee, which includes Oakland general manager Sandy Alderson, Florida general manager Dave Dombrowski and Chicago Cubs president Andy MacPhail. The committee likely will offer a recommendation today.

The Cardinals could ignore the recommendation of the committee, follow their own initiatives and possibly play the Orioles, but that would be unusual. The committee dictated the language of a weekend letter sent to the Orioles by 10 of the 11 teams.

Two baseball sources say New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, who just replaced the California Angels' Jackie Autry on the owners' Executive Council, refused to send the Orioles the letter recommended by the committee.

Instead, Steinbrenner planned to call Orioles owner Peter Angelos to discuss the matter. The Orioles and Yankees are to play March 16.

The Philadelphia Phillies, who were to play host to the Orioles on March 3 and who had made it clear they intended to use replacement players, were the first team to officially announce cancellation of spring games with the Orioles.

Later in the day, the White Sox also announced cancellation of games scheduled with the Orioles for March 7, 19 and 21.

College opponents?

Manager Phil Regan and Hemond confirmed that the Orioles are considering scheduling games against teams outside the realm of the major leagues -- college teams, for example -- in the event the exhibitions are canceled. Another idea that's being tossed around is welcoming a team from South Korea on Sunday in St. Petersburg.

"We haven't actually started calling other teams yet," Hemond said. "We're waiting to hear back from the other [major-league] teams."

No waiting line for tickets

An official for the city of St. Petersburg says the exhibition season looks to be a financial bust for the operators of Al Lang Stadium, regardless of whether the Orioles play games against replacement players or intrasquad games.

In a normal spring, leisure services administrator Lee Metzger said, "The line goes around the building the first day they sell tickets. Somebody just came from there and I asked how long the line is.

"He said, 'There is no line.' "

So the possible cancellation of Orioles exhibitions -- which would've pitted minor-leaguers against minor-leaguers -- isn't that big a deal to Metzger. The strike is.

"People just don't want to pay to see no-name players," Metzger said. "I think the fans are just getting fed up with the whole thing."

Angelos has said that if the exhibitions are canceled, he wants to play minor-league intrasquad games in Al Lang Stadium with no charge for admission. In addition, Angelos said he wants to work out some fair form of compensation with the city of St. Petersburg.

That all sounded great to Metzger. "The Orioles have the stadium for 13 dates," said Metzger, "and if we can work something out, they can use it as they see fit."

Metzger said that as far as he knew, the city was planning no lawsuits against the Orioles for their refusal to participate in replacement games. "And," Metzger said, "I would be one who would know."

Border patrol

The Orioles are trying to overcome visa obstacles for infielder Junior Noboa, a minor-league infielder with major-league experience. Noboa, 30, is waiting for clearance in the Dominican Republic. Minor-league catcher Nerio Rodriguez and infielder Feliciano Mercedes are having similar problems.

"We're very frustrated with the whole thing," said Lee MacPhail, an assistant in the team's scouting and player development departments. "We're not the only team in this situation. Unfortunately, there's nothing we can do about it."

MacPhail said the immigration process has been slowed because of the strike. Immigration officials are asking for clarification of each player's role, to ensure no player on a visa can become a replacement player.

Jesus Alfaro, an instructor for extended spring training and for the Orioles' Gulf Coast rookie team, also has been delayed -- from his native Venezuela -- because of visa trouble.

Around the horn

The Orioles' Twin Lakes Park Complex will be renamed the Buck O'Neil Baseball Complex in a March 8 ceremony, to honor the former Negro leagues star and major-league scout who earned notice for his touching narratives in the PBS baseball series televised last fall.

Left-hander Arthur Rhodes stopped by yesterday on his bike, and chatted briefly with Regan. "He said he was doing fine," said Regan. Rhodes is the third player to appear at the training site, following pitcher Alan Mills and catcher Chris Hoiles.

Hemond said it was OK with him.

"They're not here working out or anything," Hemond said. "I'm not worried about some other team saying we had guys in here working out, because we know that they're not."

The left arm of right-handed pitcher Frank Seminara swelled yesterday after he was bitten by an ant. . . . Pitcher Jerry Nielsen, one of the pitchers in the Orioles' camp with major-league experience, has been sidelined by inflammation in his throwing shoulder.

INTRASQUAD LINEUPS

The lineups for the Orioles' first intrasquad game today, which will pit Triple-A and Double-A players vs. one another. The managers are Orioles bench coach Chuck Cottier and Triple-A manager Marv Foley:

COTTIER'S BIRDS

CF Roy Hodge

SS Jeff Huson

LF Harry Berrios

RF Tyrone Woods

1B Bryan Link

3B Scott McClain

C Hector Castaneda

DH Jose Millares

2B Ken Arnold

P John DeSilva

P Steve Chitren

P Charles Devereux

P Mark Lee

FOLEY'S O'S

CF Trovin Valdez

LF Brad Tyler

DH T. R. Lewis

1B Billy Owens

3B Eric Chavez

SS Edgar Alfonzo

RF Sean Hugo

C Kris Gresham

2B Bobby DeJardin

P Rick Forney

P Jim Dedrick

P Shane Hale

P Chris Lemp

WHAT ST. PETE LOSES

The city of St. Petersburg earns 10 cents on every dollar taken in during the Orioles' 13 exhibition games. That meant a healthy take in 1994, when Al Lang Stadium usually was packed for the team's 13 exhibitions:

Al Lang Stadium

Capacity: 7,227

Ticket prices: $6.50 for box seats, $5.50 reserved, $2.50 for bleacher seats.

Average '94 attendance: 5,533

Average per-game income for the city of St. Pete: $3,214

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