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Going wherever the road leads

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 3, 2002

Spring training starts in about 10 days, and Jeff Torborg is getting ready to go.

Spring training starts in about 10 days, and Jeff Torborg is getting ready to go.

He just doesn't know where.

Torborg, you see, is the manager in the middle of baseball's amazing-but-true franchise shuffle.

Technically, Torborg is signed to manage the Expos again. But it is widely expected he will be "reassigned" to the Marlins once owner Jeff Loria closes his controversial deals to sell the Montreal team and Florida, a process that may not be approved until the middle of next week, the eve of camp openings.

"It's a unique offseason," Torborg, 60, said. "I don't know if it's because I'm older and been around, but it's not a nerve-racking thing you worry about. You manage the players you're given. It'll be fun, whichever way."

Meanwhile, Torborg is at home in Sarasota planning for a spring training that will be unlike any other he had managing the Indians, White Sox or Mets. There is even the imponderable possibility, if approval of the sales somehow gets delayed, that Torborg and his staff could open spring training with the Expos in Jupiter then move up to Viera to take over the Marlins.

"We're ready to roll, whichever way we have to," Torborg said. "I talked to Brad Arnsberg and Rick Renick, two of my coaches. We talked about how we'll run spring training -- without mention of players. We don't talk personnel because at this point we can't."

Either way -- barring (wink, wink) contraction -- Torborg will open the regular season in Montreal: It's Marlins-Expos on April 2 at Olympic Stadium.

BIG TALKER: Alabama businessman Donald Watkins, who briefly expressed interest in the Rays before moving on to the Twins, is making big plans in Minnesota.

"The Twins will become America's team," Watkins told Baseball Weekly. "We will market the team globally, not just nationally, and dominate the sport. Acquiring a team is not the ultimate goal. Dominating the sport is the ultimate goal.

"People think the Yankees dominate now? That's nothing compared to the way we'll dominate. Remember how John Wooden used to dominate with UCLA in the '60s? Minnesota will experience that same euphoria. We'll be the Tiger Woods of baseball."

Minnesota media have raised questions about whether Watkins, who would be baseball's first black majority owner, has the money to follow through on his plans to buy the team for about $120-million and build a stadium/entertainment complex for another $350-million.

Watkins' friends and associates scoff at the skepticism, saying he has done much larger deals. Watkins says those doubting his net worth, which has been reported at $1.5-billion, simply aren't smart enough to do the math.

"There are only 12 investment bankers that have the expertise to properly calculate my net worth," Watkins says. "But this isn't about how much money I make. I don't work for money. If you're only working for money, you'll never have any. Money is not happiness. The fulfillment of achieving goals is happiness.

"Money doesn't motivate me, but achievement does."

STARRING ROLE: The story of Jim Morris, the 35-year-old high school coach/teacher who made it to the majors with the Rays in 1999, is coming to a theater near you next month.

The Disney-fied version of Morris' story, titled The Rookie and starring Dennis Quaid, will be released March 29. From the early promotional material, it appears the film focuses more on Morris' family and relationship with his high school team than his time with the Rays.

RAYS REPORT: At 32 and coming off his worst season, Troy O'Leary knows he is at a critical point in his career. But the outfielder, who signed a minor-league deal last week, is excited about re-establishing himself in Tampa Bay. "I've got a lot of baseball left," O'Leary said. "This will be a fresh start for me." The Rays' risk is small. If O'Leary doesn't make the team they are out only spring training expense money; if he does, he gets a $700,000 salary and the chance to earn another $700,000 in incentives. ... The Rays have looked for a similar deal with a third baseman, but the field is slim: Ed Sprague and Bill Spiers. ... The team's winter caravan starts Saturday, highlighted by an autograph session at Tampa's WestShore Plaza at 2:30-4 p.m.

JUST WONDERING: Is anyone concerned there still have been only a handful of meetings to work out a labor contract? ... Does anyone think Bud Selig would really go ahead with contraction once camps open and there are real live Expos and Twins players on the field? ... Was it any coincidence the Red Sox waited until the middle of the Patriots' Super Bowl week to announce another ticket increase?

MISCELLANY: The once-endangered Mariners already have sold 21,404 season tickets, up nearly 10 percent from last year. ... An interesting foursome at the Augusta National golf club recently: Rangers owner Tom Hicks, general manager John Hart, assistant general manager Grady Fuson -- and shortstop Alex Rodriguez. Good thing A-Rod doesn't get preferential treatment. ... Arizona closer Matt Mantei, rehabbing from elbow surgery, needed four stitches after cutting his right thumb opening a can of dog food.

-- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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