O's exhibit charm in Rochester

Well-behaved O's even wear a tie (1-1) in stop some opposed

Booed Belle strikes out

Extending 39-year link isn't agreed to by teams

June 29, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- For all the controversy that swirled around this night, the Orioles left town leaving behind no losers.

A 1-hour, 49-minute exhibition between the Orioles and their Triple-A affiliate Rochester Red Wings ended in a 1-1 tie even after the Orioles offered a goodwill gesture by extending the scheduled seven-inning game to eight innings. Despite rumors of player defections all Orioles were present for their 23rd game in 25 days. The capacity Frontier Field crowd of 13,307 enjoyed only a fleeting glimpse of most Orioles regulars, but at least the game was played.

"Sometimes the timing is good. Sometimes the timing isn't good," said third baseman Cal Ripken.

The exhibition overshadowed negotiations between Orioles general manager Frank Wren and Red Wings chief operating officer Naomi Silver on an extension of the clubs' 39-year working agreement. While the Orioles pushed for a three-year deal to follow the current arrangement, which expires in September, the Red Wings insisted on a one-year deal.

Silver cited fan dissatisfaction over the club assigned the International League affiliate. "Although I don't foresee us ending our relationship with the Orioles, we don't want to be perceived as being taken for granted," Silver said.

Silver has heard protracted rumors about the Orioles wanting to place their Triple-A affiliate in Bowie but added, "We've heard that the past five, six or seven years. If the Orioles ever reach that position, we certainly wouldn't be inclined to stand in their way."

Wren declined to comment expect to say that an agreement was likely soon.

If the Orioles expected to sidestep questions about their reluctance to play the exhibition after participating in a home-and-home series against a Cuban all-star team, they were quickly disappointed.

Ripken walked into the third base dugout two hours before the first pitch and was immediately fed a fast-pitch softball by a local television reporter.

"Welcome to Rochester," she said. "It almost didn't happen."

Jammed, Ripken replied, "Is that a question?"

Not as of touchdown yesterday afternoon. Following a week of embarrassing uncertainty over whether the Orioles would honor their commitment to appear at Frontier Field, every player appeared. Scott Erickson and Jeff Reboulet signed autographs behind the stadium suites, Will Clark enthusiastically worked fans beside both dugouts and Albert Belle well, Albert was there. He struck out in his only at-bat and even swung at the last pitch.

Belle's ambiguous call last week for a boycott of the game was not forgiven.

"I think everything went very well," Wren said. "After we came to an agreement last week with the players, the issue was pretty much over."

For some, maybe. On its editorial page, yesterday's Rochester Democrat and Chronicle chastised the Orioles' players and management for shoddy handling of the matter.

"This isn't the back country," the paper insisted. "This is where baseball lives -- or will die, if the connection between major and minor leagues, between fans and athletes, are strained to the breaking point."

Sports columnist Scott Pitoniak called the players "ingrates" and referred to "what a hardship it has been to cancel tee times in order to promote baseball in backwater towns such as ours."

An earlier edition cited the fact that Orioles majority owner Peter Angelos has never been seen in Baseball City, U.S.A., since buying the team.

But the night wasn't as much about media indignation as it was about an appreciative city renewing its 39-year-old ties with its parent club. Orioles first base coach and former Red Wings manager "Marvelous" Marv Foley was feted before the game with a video tribute and a Rolex watch.

The Orioles were received warmly during player introductions except for their petition-driving right fielder. Booed loudly, Belle emerged from the dugout flicking his hands as if asking fans to boo even louder.

"There was nothing [unseemly] except in the case you might expect," pitcher and player representative Mike Mussina said.

Former Orioles manager Joe Altobelli, now a Red Wings broadcaster, stood and applauded in the press box during player introductions. "Don't boo. Either be silent or applaud," Altobelli said.

"Sometimes," Ripken acknowledged, "it's not as easy for the big-league team."

The Bird showed up. Waste Man, an ample flag-waving local who jogs the warning track exhorting fans to dispose of trash, entertained between innings.

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