Vegas adds A's to its opening acts

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Baseball's ode to neon begins a week from tomorrow, when the Oakland Athletics play their season opener against the Toronto Blue Jays in Las Vegas.

The Athletics moved their first six games of the season to Cashman Field (capacity: 9,344), saying the renovations of Oakland Coliseum won't be completed in time for Opening Day.

"We want to be able to open the stadium to fans and let them see what it will be the best baseball stadium in California," said A's executive vice president Ed Alvarez. "We'll be able to do that April 19. We would not have been able to do that April 1."

However, George Vukasin, the president of the Coliseum

commission, said the renovations would be made by April 1, and suggested the real reason for the move is the Athletics are trying to conceal the fact they aren't selling any tickets for Opening Day, traditionally a big draw.

Said Vukasin: "If their marketing department was as creative as it should be, they'd have everything ready by Opening Day."

Regardless, the Athletics are headed to Las Vegas, where the seventh-inning stretch may not be quite so traditional. Perhaps the Athletics' marketing department is kicking around some ideas to lure fans to Cashman Field.

1) Wayne Newton sings the national anthem. If you miss his first show before the game, he'll sing it again after the top of the fifth inning.

2) Before each at-bat, hitters will yank the handle of a progressive slot machine mounted on the side of the dugout. If three baseballs roll up on the scoreboard, some lucky fan wins big.

3) Buffet lines instead of concession stands.

4) Keno draws at the start of every inning.

5) The movie "Bugsy" will be shown on JumboTron during rain delays.

6) Every time the Athletics score a run, showgirls prance on the dugout to a medley of '70s hits, sung by Tony Orlando, Florence Henderson and Athletics catcher Terry Steinbach.

7) For a week, baseball's rule against player betting will be relaxed.

8) If both teams combine to score 21 runs, all those in attendance win a stack of chips.

9) Pawn shops behind home plate will open at the start of batting practice and end a half-hour after the game.

10) Pete Rose will throw out the first ball.

Farcical?

Exactly.

Colangelo's bad idea

Phoenix Suns owner Jerry Colangelo knows basketball, and he might've picked up a few things from living in a community that had the Super Bowl and Fiesta Bowl two months ago. But Colangelo, who also owns the expansion Arizona Diamondbacks, is pushing an idiotic plan to other baseball owners: The World Series, Colangelo suggests, should be moved to a neutral site. All in the name of marketing.

Can you imagine the Orioles or the Boston Red Sox or the New York Yankees playing every day for six months to get into the postseason, only to have the World Series games moved to Tempe, Ariz., or Miami? Can you imagine the reaction of season-ticket holders? Colangelo knows a whole lot about making money, but he is clueless when it comes to understanding baseball.

The Los Angeles Dodgers made a lot of noises when training camp opened about how they were the team to beat in the NL, that they could contend with the Braves. But Atlanta has beaten them three straight this spring, outscoring the Dodgers by a combined 27-10. "It gets a little frustrating," said Los Angeles catcher Mike Piazza. "It's personal pride. . . . I think they made it clear they're the team to beat. Let's put it this way, I don't think they're real intimidated [by] us."

Dundalk native Mike Bielecki, 36, is in contention for a spot as a middle reliever for the Braves, which would be his third stint with Atlanta. He showed up in the Braves' camp a few weeks ago on a motorcycle, his hair so long that pitching coach Leo Mazzone didn't recognize him. He went 4-6 with California last year and was let go after the season. Bielecki said: "I thought my career was over, so I bought a motorcycle and grew my hair."

Reds sour on Goodwin

It didn't take long, but the Cincinnati Reds are unhappy with center fielder Curtis Goodwin, acquired from the Orioles for left-hander David Wells. Goodwin is batting under .100, and he has shown a distinct inability to track fly balls. Goodwin opened camp as the front-runner to be the Reds' center fielder. Now there are rumblings in the organization that Cincinnati is ready to deal him.

Friday marked the third anniversary of the boating accident that killed Cleveland pitchers Steve Olin and Tim Crews and seriously injured Bob Ojeda. Kevin Wickander, a reliever now with Milwaukee Brewers, played with Cleveland at the time and was a close friend of Olin's. Wickander said: "They say time heals it, but it hasn't healed it all. It's still quite painful."

It looks as if Eric Davis is going to make the Reds' roster as an extra outfielder. Chris Sabo could be the everyday third baseman if he stays healthy. Sabo has been sidelined by a hamstring pull.

Cleveland DH Eddie Murray says he doesn't care whether writers who pick Hall of Famers vote for him after he retires. "I'm not going to think about it," Murray said. "Some of them [Hall of Fame voters] don't deserve the power they have, and I will not let others dictate my happiness."

Dibble wild

Rob Dibble, trying to make a comeback with the Chicago Cubs, needs work. Throwing in a minor-league game Monday, Dibble pitched 1 2/3 innings, allowing three hits, four walks and five runs. He threw six wild pitches and hit the first batter he faced.

Houston needs bullpen help now that John Hudek is out with neck and rib-cage trouble, perhaps for the season. The Astros will use Todd Jones as the closer and are looking for middle relief.

Philadelphia Phillies manager Jim Fregosi has settled on his first three starters Sid Fernandez, Terry Mulholland and Mike Grace. Beyond that ignominious trio, Fregosi is hoping somebody emerges. Tyler Green, an NL All-Star last year, went through a second round of tests on his shoulder this week, because pain in the joint just won't go away. He may need season-ending shoulder surgery.

* During the winter, the Orioles checked into the availability of reliever Tom Henke but were told that if Henke changed his mind and came out of retirement, it probably would be with the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cardinals are offering Tom Pagnozzi hoping to free up the money to re-sign Henke. St. Louis called the Orioles - knowing their concern for Chris Hoiles - and the Orioles said no thanks.

O's eye Yankees prospect

* The Orioles do want to add another catcher, and they have their eye on Jorge Posada, who hit .255 with eight homers and 51 RBIs in Triple-A last year. One problem: Posada is the property of the New York Yankees, who could be reluctant to aid and abet the enemy.

Texas is moving slugger Juan Gonzalez from left field to right, which they hope will ease the pain in his sore back. There's a lot more ground to cover in left field at The Ballpark in Arlington than there is in right field. "He's happy about it and I'm happy about it," said manager Johnny Oates. "It's a positive move for the team. It'll make him a better player."

San Francisco seems to be the front-runner to acquire right-hander David Weathers from the Florida Marlins now.

* If Jeff Huson doesn't stick with the Orioles this week, maybe he'll get a shot with the Rangers or the Astros, two teams located near his Texas home.

The Rangers want a reserve middle infielder, the Astros a left-handed hitter to back up Sean Berry at third.

If the Orioles try to send Huson to the minors, he has the right - as a player with more than five years of major-league experience - to reject the demotion and become a free agent, which he probably would do.

* The weakest hitter in the Boston lineup may be leadoff man Dwayne Hosey, so manager Kevin Kennedy is considering the idea of using Wil Cordero at the top of the order. The Red Sox lineup should get even better, believe it or not - Boston is going to pursue a deal for Montreal All-Star Moises Alou, who would play center field for Kennedy.

* Oakland first baseman Mark McGwire thinks he'll be out one or two months with the torn muscle in his right arch.

* Ex-minor-leaguer Michael Jordan told the Chicago Tribune this week that he misses baseball.

"I miss the fun things that would go on throughout the day at spring training," he said. "What a lucky thing for me to be able to do. . . . I know I'll never play baseball again, except with my kids, but I'll miss it. . . . I look at the TV coverage of spring training after I get home from Bulls games, and I see the baseball fields and I think, 'Amazing. I was actually out there.'"

By the numbers

* The Dodgers dumped shortstop Jose Offerman and acquired Greg Gagne to improve their infield defense. Through games of Thursday, Gagne had five spring training errors, Offerman one.

* The Orioles had the fewest outfield assists of any AL team last season, with 14. The four outfield positions with the fewest assists in the AL - Yankees' center field (1), the Orioles' left field (2), Cleveland's right field (4), and Texas' center field (4).

* The White Sox have put an increased emphasis on situational hitting in exhibitions this spring. Through last weekend, they led the majors in sacrifice bunts and led the AL in sacrifice flies.

* Two of the best AL teams are two of the worst-fielding teams, the Red Sox and Cleveland. The Indians had 35 errors in their first 23 exhibition games. Second baseman Carlos Baerga and third baseman Jim Thome had six errors apiece.

* Since New York signed Kenny Rogers, he often has been compared to Yankees bust Ed Whitson because of his supposedly fragile psyche. Turns out Rogers is wearing the same number (38) as Whitson.

* Milwaukee nonroster invitee Wes Weger was given No. 4 this spring, becoming the first player to wear the number since Paul Molitor left the team after the 1992 season. As Molitor acknowledged, this probably is a sign the Brewers are angry with his decision to sign with the Twins.

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