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John Rocker story

Posted: Wednesday, June 28, 2000

MONTREAL -- John Rocker's anger has been on simmer since he returned from the minor leagues two weeks ago, but it's still there, bubbling just below the surface.

Every now and then it will spark, in a momentary glare, amumbled curse, justenough to demonstrate he hasn't forgiven or forgotten the media, which he blamesfor the hysteria surrounding his first visit to the New York boroughs since the infamous Sports Illustrated story hit the newsstands last December.

``Maybe the media can focus on something worthwhile for a change, instead ofrehashing some 7-month-old information,'' he said.

It's doubtful anything less than an alien spaceship landing in Times Square would generate the response that figures to greet the controversial Atlanta Braves closer when he steps outside the team's Manhattan hotel and heads for Shea Stadium in Queens this afternoon.

Just how Rocker will make the journey, by the No. 7 train, by car service, by taxi, remains a secret.

``I'm not saying anything further about it,'' he said, leaving open the possibility he'll attempt to ride the subway, as he promised he would during an interview a week ago.

If New York City police and Major League Baseball have their way, Rocker will make the trip by car, leaving no opportunity for New Yorkers to vent their anger at him for his tirade against their city, minorities, gays and women. MLB officials have tried to talk Rocker out of taking the No. 7 train to Shea, but if he does, police have promised he'll by surrounded by blue uniforms.

``That's up to him,'' Braves manager Bobby Cox said. ``I haven't told him what to do.

Rocker says he plans to treat this visit like any other, though Cox and his players don't believe there will be anything routine about the trip. Not with hundreds of extra police officers attempting to insure Rocker's safety. Not with a newly erected chain-link fence guarding the visitors' bullpen at Shea, soon to be topped with a canopy to protect pitchers from flying bottles, cans and other hazards. Not so an overflow media throng recording his every syllable and tracing his every move, including Turner Broadcasting System, which has

dispatched reporter Craig Sager to New York to provide in-game

reports.

The Mets plan to cut off beer sales after the sixth inning, and sales

will be limited to two-per-customer. Plainclothes police will circulate through the stands, and between 450 and 500 uniformed cops will be ready to handle any disturbances. In addition, video cameras will be trained on the crowd to spot potential troublemakers.

``It might be the safest place in baseball this weekend,'' said first baseman Wally Joyner, who remembers a knife being thrown at Angels pitcher Mike Witt following a game at Yankee Stadium in the late 1980s. ``My belief is (the media) is making such a big deal out of it. They're making a story out of something that shouldn't be a story.''

Certainly Rocker's presence has added a carnival element to a series that should be about the two best teams in the National League East squaring off in a renewal of last October's league championship series. But that has been largely overlooked in the hoopla of Rockermania, which has taken on a life of its own.

``It got on my nerves at first, but not now,'' Rocker said of theattention. ``I've gotten used to it now, and it doesn't bother me.''

Perhaps not, but the increased scrutiny and media presence during the first three months of the season have angered and annoyed his teammates. It's coming to a head this weekend, and many observers wonder if the circus surrounding Rocker will be a distraction to the Braves.

``To be honest with you, I don't see what all the hubbub is about,''

third baseman Chipper Jones said. ``All the focus should be on the first- and second-place teams in the National League, and it's not. I'm worrying about the Mets. Whatever happens outside the white lines shouldn't distract anybody.''

Said pitcher Greg Maddux, ``It's only a distraction if you let it be

one. The media is always there, sometimes more than others. Whether it's two or 200, the presence is always there. I think there might be a few more questions, so you might go and hide a little longer than usual.''

Some players, like right fielder Brian Jordan, say they'll feed off

the additional excitement.

``I packed my shoulder pads,'' Jordan said jokingly. ``I always look forward to playing the Mets because of the environment and the challenge. The

fans will be waiting to react accordingly.

``Will all the rumors of `D' batteries (being thrown) going to be

true? I just hope it doesn't get out of hand.''

That's a sentiment Mets manager Bobby Valentine echoed Tuesday.

``Just don't do anything stupid -- compound a stupid action with a

stupid action,'' Valentine said. ``It has a chance of blowing over and proving my faith in my fellow mankind ... or that faith will be destroyed.

``Ignore him,'' he urged. ``That's the one thing that would probably

do it.''



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