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Security checkpoints could delay takeoffs

By KEVIN KELLY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published August 11, 2002

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The increased security measures in place at airports since Sept. 11 could begin to change the way the Rays and other teams travel during the final weeks of the season.

Beginning Aug. 19, chartered planes and their passengers will be subjected to the same screening commercial fliers have undergone since the terrorist attacks.

That could pose problems for ballclubs, which drive to their charter and board players and equipment without going through security checkpoints in airport terminals.

"They're not going to create special terminals for charters, so you're going to have 50 passengers walk up and be subjected to the same criteria as regular passengers," Rays travel director Jeff Ziegler said. "Every fifth guy or so will get searched, take his shoes off, etc. Who knows how long it will take."

Baseball officials said last week they planned to talk to the U.S. Transportation Security Administration about a few ideas, including conducting the security screenings in private areas to prevent delays.

"We started talking to the airlines," Ziegler said. "And the airlines were basically saying that they needed (teams) to take a more active role in what's going on because it sounds like it's almost a done deal."

* * *

STRONG-ARM TACTICS: Rightfielder Jason Conti is learning there is a certain benefit to being a relatively anonymous newcomer to the American League.

"Teams don't know who I am," he said. "So they're still going to run on me."

Conti, who has started the past seven games, is earning a reputation for having an above-average arm after twice throwing out Chicago's Frank Thomas at home, Cleveland's Ricky Gutierrez at third and Kansas City's Luis Alicea at second during that span.

"There are still times when you have to challenge a guy, and those are the times where you have to be accurate and you have to make strong throws," said Conti, second on the team with eight outfield assists. "I've been lucky enough to throw good throws and be relatively accurate."

* * *

MOST EXCITING: Outfielders Carl Crawford and Rocco Baldelli were among five Rays prospects recognized in Baseball America's Best Tools issue last week.

Neither, however, is in the league in which he earned the honor.

Crawford, called up from Triple-A Durham on July 20, was named the most exciting player and best baserunner in the International League. Baldelli began the season at Class A Bakersfield and was named the California League's most exciting player and best defensive outfielder.

Baldelli was promoted to Double-A Orlando on July19 after hitting .333 with 14 homers and Durham on Friday after just 17 games. He hit .371 for the O-Rays.

"If I hadn't been able to make any adjustments, I wouldn't have been able to play as well as I have," Baldelli said. "There's really a big gap between leagues."

Others mentioned were Durham's Lee Gardner (best reliever), Bakersfield's Aaron Clark (best defensive first baseman) and Bakersfield's Evan Rust (best reliever).

* * *

UPTON UPDATE: The Rays still are working to sign first-round draft pick B.J. Upton.

"We've had discussions with B.J.'s agent and family," Rays director of player personnel Cam Bonifay said Friday. "It's moving in a positive direction."

* * *

PROUD PAPA: Former Rays reliever Doug Creek, who was traded to the Mariners last month, became a father Monday when wife Alison gave birth to Colton Douglas Creek.

Born several weeks premature, Colton weighed just more than 4 pounds and is expected to stay in the hospital for at least another week. Creek joined his wife and son last week and returned to the Mariners on Friday.

"He and his mom are doing fine," Creek told the News Tribune of Tacoma, Wash. "I bottle-fed him (Friday) morning before I left, and he fits in one hand. His head's about the size of a softball. The little booger snuck in and stole my heart."

* * *

HIGH RATING: In a recent survey conducted by Sports Travel, a New England-based tour operator and sports marketing company, Tropicana Field ranked third in the majors based on 19 fan criteria. Criteria included seat comfort, friendliness of staff, ambience and ease of departure.

PNC Park in Pittsburgh was No. 1 with a 4.55 on a five-point scale. Minute Maid Park in Houston was No. 2 at 4.54 followed by the Trop at 4.48.

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

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