Belle petitions for boycott of Rochester game

Club officials aren't amused

Hairston arrives and starts

June 23, 1999|By Joe Strauss and Roch Kubatko | Joe Strauss and Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Whether intended as a prank or a protest, Orioles right fielder Albert Belle created an organizational swirl last night by posting a petition at his locker to boycott next Monday's exhibition in Rochester.

Belle's handmade sign said simply: Petition to Boycott Exhibition Game in Rochester on Monday, 6/28/99. Below were spaces for players to register their support. Belle was the first to sign, and later on Scott Erickson's signature appeared underneath. Club officials apparently were not amused.

Chief operating officer Joe Foss noted Belle's handiwork during a brief stopover and mentioned it to manager Ray Miller. The sign was removed be fore the end of batting practice.

Club officials chose not to address the matter last night except to deny any suggestion that the exhibition game is up for negotiation. For several weeks players wondered whether the game was canceled as part of a quid pro quo for playing a Cuban all-star team in season May 3.

Player representative Mike Mussina said yesterday that he considers Monday's game a certainty regardless of any clubhouse dissatisfaction.

Tickets for the game were sold out within hours after being made available. According to general manager Frank Wren, the game is mandatory for all players, including Belle.

"There is certainly precedent for playing two exhibitions in season," Wren said last night. "It happens regularly when teams play in the Hall of Fame game. It's happened here before."

The Orioles remain sensitive to the precedent. In 1997, second baseman Roberto Alomar abstained from the game in Rochester immediately after the All-Star Game. Alomar never notified then-manager Davey Johnson of his intention to miss the game in order to travel to Puerto Rico to be with family following his grandmother's death. Johnson subsequently fined Alomar $10,000 without first gaining consent from majority owner Peter Angelos.

Angelos became further enraged when he learned Johnson had asked Alomar to make out a check to a charity that retained Johnson's wife, Susan, as a fund-raiser.

Wren, who spent most of the day at Delmarva and chaperoning two of the club's first-round draft picks, said he was not fully aware of Belle's protest but would investigate further.

Hairston starts in hurry

As the early weeks of the season ticked away, infielder Jerry Hairston was struggling so badly that he said he couldn't hit high school pitching, let alone the stuff being thrown by Triple-A competition.

Hairston eventually found a groove at Rochester, reminding the Orioles why he's regarded as one of their top prospects. And yesterday, he found the home clubhouse at Camden Yards and his name in the lineup against Boston right-hander Pat Rapp.

Hairston, 23, was recalled when second baseman Delino DeShields went on the disabled list retroactive to Sunday with a strained right hamstring. He was hitting .268 with 11 doubles, two triples, six homers, 28 RBIs and 14 stolen bases.

This is Hairston's second tour with the Orioles. He received a September call-up last season and was hitless in seven at-bats. "In my situation, all I really want to do is get better. I was hoping I'd get another opportunity," he said.

When DeShields went on the DL for the first time to open the season, the opportunity went to another middle infielder, Jesse Garcia, whose defensive skills won over manager Ray Miller in spring training. Garcia couldn't be considered for yesterday's promotion because he's on the DL.

"This team's on a roll, and I definitely don't want to hinder them," said Hairston, who hit .326 in 55 games at Double-A Bowie last season. "This is a big series for us, and I really want to be a part of helping this team win."

Hairston began his career as a shortstop, but was shifted to second when Garcia began the season in Baltimore and again when Garcia went on the DL.

His preference? "When the manager puts your name in the lineup, you play wherever he wants you to. It doesn't really matter to me," Hairston said.

"I'm just comfortable playing, being out there and being a part of the game. I try not to think about whether it's short or second."

Hairston said his early struggles at Rochester, when his average stayed below .200 through the first month, were caused by allowing some "situations" to affect him. Though he wouldn't specify, he had to deal with Garcia's moving ahead of him among middle-infield prospects and the signing of DeShields for three years.

"The last six weeks I really turned it around and have been hitting the ball very well," he said. "I really started playing like Jerry again and not worrying about what I can't control."

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