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Vaughn: 'I'm coming to play the outfield'

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times
published February 17, 2002

ST. PETERSBURG -- For all the articles you've already read and interviews you've seen about the composition of the Rays outfield, Greg Vaughn has the answer.

"I feel great, I feel strong and I'm coming to play the outfield," Vaughn said from his California home. "Everything feels good right now."

Every discussion of the Rays' outfield plans seems to start with an if, specifically if Vaughn will be healthy enough to play leftfield on close to an everyday basis.

If he can, then the Rays can play Jason Tyner in center and have the option of keeping Ben Grieve in right or using him more as a DH. (Perhaps as importantly, they'll also a better chance of eventually trading Vaughn and the remaining $18-million on his contract.) If not, Vaughn will be the DH and other options will be limited.

Because of sore legs and a cranky shoulder, Vaughn played 57 games in the field last season, two after Aug. 15.

But a winter of karate and flexibility drills has his hamstrings loose, and an enhanced exercise and weights program has his right shoulder "the best it's felt in a long time."

If everything holds up, Vaughn, 36, expects to re-establish himself as one of the game's top sluggers. Having posted 95 home runs and 237 RBIs in 1998-99, Vaughn has 52 homers and 156 RBIs in two injury-marred seasons with the Rays.

"I'm coming in focused on doing what I do, which is punish the baseball," Vaughn said. "I'm going to show people I can be that force in the middle of lineup that I know I am. If I can do that, it takes the pressure off my teammates."

What he doesn't know is how long he'll be with the young Rays team.

"I think they're going to try and get me out of there," Vaughn said. "I think it's just a matter of time. I have no control over it. If they trade me, they trade me. I've just got to do what I do. That's all I can worry about."

KNEE-HIGHS: There was, at the least, mixed reaction to manager Hal McRae's new dress code. Players must wear stirrup socks and keep their pant legs high enough to show at least four inches of green. Many are wearing pants in the old-fashioned style with the socks exposed to knee length.

"I'm not a big fan, but Hal makes the rules," veteran John Flaherty said. "Instead of one or two guys looking like idiots, now we'll all look like idiots together. But I guess we'll be doing it as a team."

McRae ordered the change because he felt players were using too many different styles of socks and had gone too far in wearing their pants to their ankles, or even hooked into their shoes.

Plus, he likes the old-fashioned style. "It looks good," McRae said. "It's the way the uniform should be worn."

CHICKEN OR EGG: Promoting the idea that the Rays -- who will have the youngest team and possibly the lowest payroll in the majors this season -- are headed for long-term success, general manager Chuck LaMar challenged fans to step up their support and eliminate doubts about the team's future.

"What comes first?" LaMar asked. "Do you win and the fans come out, or do the fans need to come out and support this organization before we really start to win?

"The latter is what's got to happen here. If it does, that word contraction can be completely eliminated and we can get on with business at hand. I challenge ourselves to put the product on the field that we think we can with the young players this year. And I challenge everybody in this area to try and get behind this organization and this club before the wins and losses start. If that happens, we'll have a heck of a lot of fun."

HOO-RAYS: Former Rays coaches Rick Williams and Ray Searage were among the Marlins staffers freed from limbo and fired Friday. About 15,000 fans visited FanFest on Saturday. Fox Sports Net will show a FanFest special at 9 a.m. today, and the event continues from noon to 4 p.m. at Tropicana Field.

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