Millar has fans throwing fits

The Baltimore Sun

From the day he signed with the Orioles, first baseman Kevin Millar didn't hide his reverence for the three seasons he spent with the Boston Red Sox, which included helping the club break a lifetime of frustration by winning the 2004 World Series.

During the past two seasons, his frequent calls of "Sox Nation" and "Cowboy Up," the rallying cry for the 2004 champs, have been a source of amusement in the Orioles clubhouse, where Millar is considered a team leader. However, his latest involvement with his former team has struck a nerve with fans of his current one.

Millar's decision to throw out the first pitch before the Red Sox's Game 7 victory over the Cleveland Indians in the American League Championship Series on Sunday made him a target yesterday on the local airwaves and in Orioles-related chat rooms, with fans questioning his loyalty and commitment.

One fan - 28-year-old Jon French - posted an online petition, urging president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail to trade Millar, who had gotten the Orioles' permission before traveling to Fenway Park.

"It kind of got to me that he identified himself with the Red Sox," said French, who lives in Augusta, Maine. "This is the same team that comes to the stadium, all the fans come in and invade the park and treat Oriole fans like garbage. ... We're supposed to be fighting this and having some team pride. It's not right."

French also was annoyed that Millar had announced the Red Sox's lineup for Sunday's TV broadcast and had filmed a promo for Fox before Game 5, urging Red Sox fans to "not give up and support your Sox," and saying, "It's time to Cowboy Up."

Millar was surprised and a little amused yesterday by the attention. He said he was hesitant to take part in Sunday's pre-game events but changed his mind after learning Red Sox president Larry Lucchino had contacted MacPhail and Orioles owner Peter Angelos to ask permission and got no objections.

Millar also was swayed when he heard that former Red Sox teammates Bill Mueller and Dave Roberts also were contacted to throw out first pitches. Mueller, the Los Angeles Dodgers' hitting coach, did it before Saturday's Game 6. Roberts, a San Francisco Giants outfielder, might do it during the World Series.

"It's fun radio show talk, but this isn't a big deal," Millar said. "It's not vindictive or anything. I'm a Baltimore Oriole, period, and this has nothing to do with anything but throwing out the first pitch. The Orioles aren't in the playoffs right now, but you still root for your friends to do well."

Asked whether he is worried about fan backlash, Millar said, "If I worry about what everybody said about me, I wouldn't be where I am today."

Millar said the fact that he's an active player for a team in the same division as the Red Sox made it an unusual situation.

The Orioles said they got complaint calls and e-mails yesterday from irate fans, but Orioles Hall of Fame pitcher and current broadcaster Jim Palmer said the issue has been blown out of proportion.

"The bottom line is how he conducts himself when he puts on an Orioles uniform, and I don't think anybody tries to overachieve more than Kevin," Palmer said. "That's what he's all about. I don't have a problem with it at all. ... Let's worry about things that have something to do with improving next year."

Note -- The Orioles offered a coaching position to B.J. Surhoff, but the former player declined, saying he isn't able to commit fully at this point. Surhoff might still work with the club during spring training.

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