Keys differ on whether major-leaguers' strike can benefit them

August 15, 1994|By Brad Snyder | Brad Snyder,Sun Staff Writer

FREDERICK -- Before the Frederick Keys played the Lynchburg Red Sox yesterday, a cardboard "Fantastic Enlarger Box" turned a miniature basketball into a regular-sized one, a stick into a baseball bat and a plastic baby doll into a grown man.

The box, which was set up at home plate, did not instantly transform the Keys into the Orioles. Most of these guys will never make it to the majors. The lucky few probably are two years away. At least.

So when the major-leaguers say they are striking for the younger guys in the minors, it does not mean much to members of the Orioles' Single-A affiliate.

"If they say they're helping us, they're helping us," Keys catcher B. J. Wazgis said. "I'm far away from the major leagues, probably a year or more. By then this will be ancient history, and nobody will remember it."

Most of the Keys really don't care about the strike. They care about putting up good numbers, and about winning games.

The Keys, who have won 11 of their past 12 games, defeated Lynchburg, 8-5, before 5,482 rain-drenched fans at Harry Grove Stadium. Garrett Stephenson (6-5) got his first win since returning from Double-A Bowie. He pitched five innings, allowed three earned runs and struck out three.

The Keys are in first place in the Carolina League's Northern Division, leading the Wilmington Blue Rocks by 3 1/2 games.

The second-half pennant race is more important to the players than the strike. They do not spend much time talking about revenue sharing and the salary cap.

"It really doesn't affect us," said outfielder Kimera Bartee, who sat out yesterday's game with a pulled hip flexor. "We really don't waste our time with it."

But Bartee, the team's leadoff man, who is hitting .286 and has a team-high 41 stolen bases, recognizes the strike's long-term importance to his career.

"I definitely believe that they're doing it for us," Bartee said. "It was done for them [in 1981]."

Pitcher Jay Powell, the Orioles' No. 1 draft pick in 1993 out of Mississippi State, agrees.

"I honestly think they're doing it for us," Powell said. "You've got to admire that, that they're doing it for us."

Other players are a little more skeptical.

"I guess you kind of take it with a grain of salt," Keys first baseman Bryan Link said. "Whether they really believe [they're helping younger guys] or not, I'm not sure."

Link and other players have not forgotten that last year the Major League Baseball Players Association excluded the minor leagues from collective bargaining talks.

"I hope what they say they mean," said third baseman Eric Chavez, who doubled and scored two runs yesterday. "It's hard to say because we don't have any say in it."

The Keys would not mind having a minor-league players union.

"We wish we could have our own union because we're not making much money," Link said. "There's licensing money out there that [the minors] make."

Chavez said a union could improve their day-to-day lives.

"I guess we could have better travel, a little increase in pay, more meal money," he said. "Just the little things, that always helps."

Chavez said he is most aware of the current baseball strike when he gets home from the ballpark each night. He sits in front of his electronic fantastic enlarger box, which he calls a television, studying to be the type of major-leaguer that he one day hopes to be.

"I hate to go home and not watch 'Baseball Tonight' or 'SportsCenter,' " Chavez said. "That hurts, because by watching the big-leaguers you can learn and see how they adjust to certain things. It's hurting me because I don't watch it."

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