Local baseball silence now becoming deafening

January 12, 1995|By BILL TANTON

It's not supposed to be this way. Not this week.

This is when baseball is supposed to yawn and stretch and start coming out of hibernation.

Normally, with the 42nd annual Tops in Sports banquet being held tomorrow at the Towson Center, Frank Sliwka's restaurant and bar in Lansdowne -- Renee's -- is a nut-house.

The phone rings constantly. Willie Stargell is on the line. He wants to know where he's staying. Eddie Mathews calls with his tuxedo size. Cecil Fielder says he'll be here, he's taking the red-eye from L.A.

It's nothing like that this week.

The phone doesn't ring because Sliwka and John Rommel, who runs the banquet with him, aren't importing a head table full of big-leaguers.

Cal will be there and Flanny and ex-Oriole Bob Turley and new manager Phil Regan. The program will be more localized. The baseball players' strike changed things.

In fact, Sliwka isn't even at Renee's. He's home in bed with the flu.

Behind the bar is a classic Baltimore sports guy, John Zareva. He's wearing a cap that says: Tampa Bay Bucs.

"Did you just buy that?" Zareva is asked.

"Nah," he says. "I've had this for two years. I just like underdogs."

"Do you think Pete Angelos will be able to buy the Bucs and move them to Baltimore?"

"I doubt it," Zareva says. "Not as long as [Paul] Tagliabue is the commissioner. The NFL has treated Baltimore like dirt.

"Tagliabue thinks Baltimore and Washington are one market and we're not. I hate the Redskins. I've hated them all my life."

L In Zareva's case, that's getting to be a long time. He's 57.

Zareva remembers attending a Colt Nite intrasquad game at Memorial Stadium when the quarterbacks were George Shaw "and a guy named Unitas." He saw the CFLs twice and thought it was exciting.

"It's not the same, though," he says. "Nobody knows the players on the other teams. When the Colts played, we knew 'em all."

Zareva is feeling sorry for Sliwka. Not just because Frank can't shake this flu. Not because banquet ticket sales are down from 2,000 to around 1,400.

"People are mad at Frank because the ballplayers are on strike," Zareva says. "What's Frank got to do with it? One man the other day told Sliwka: 'Baseball's on strike. The umpires are on strike. Hockey's on strike. Why ain't you banquet guys on strike?' "

In some cities they are. Baseball banquets have been canceled in a half-dozen places.

Sliwka and Rommel pushed on. Their banquet raises money for the Johns Hopkins Children's Center and WBAL's Kids Campaign. They didn't want to forgo that.

"When do you think the players will be back playing baseball?" Zareva is asked.

"I don't think anybody cares," he says.

It's not supposed to be that way. Not in Baltimore, where we have only one major-league team.

At Camden Yards, a five-minute drive from Renee's, things are also quiet.

It's not supposed to be that way during the Tops in Sports week. The Orioles also are working on their eighth annual Winter Carnival, a week from Saturday. You'd never know it. Things are that quiet.

"The players started working out this week," says Spiro Alafassos, of the club's PR department.

Of course! By mid-January there are 10 or 12 players working out at the ballpark. That's become a ritual.

"Is Mike Mussina down there?" Spiro is asked.

"Oh, no," he says emphatically. "The big-league players would never do that. They're working out on their own. At least I hope they are."

Ten minor-league players have begun working out at Camden Yards. The best known is Rick Forney, an Annapolis kid who was 13-8 at Double-A Bowie.

It's not supposed to be that way.

Spiro is working on the Orioles' media guide, no easy task this year. For instance: Which players does he put in it?

TC "The regular players," he says. "They'll be back at some point. If they're not back when the season starts, we'll put out an insert."

Spiro has a lot in common with Zareva, the bartender with the Bucs' cap.

Spiro, like Zareva, is a pure local guy. Grew up on Chester Street in Fells Point. Son of a ship chandler. Loved sports. Went to Archbishop Curley High. Played baseball. Then off to the University of South Florida in Tampa.

Guess what. Spiro is a Tampa Bay Bucs' fan, too. He was a season-ticket holder when he was in college there two years ago.

"I love the Bucs," says this young publicist without a team to publicize. "They've made some terrible personnel decisions. They skipped over Emmitt Smith to take a guy named Reggie Cobb. But now they have Errict Rhett, who broke Emmitt's records at Florida."

Spiro is convinced that if Pete Angelos can buy the Bucs and move them here, he'll put a qualified football man in charge and the team will improve.

In the week baseball is supposed to be breaking out of its midwinter cocoon, Spiro and Zareva are talking football.

It's not supposed to be that way.

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