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Labor issues have added importance

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 24, 2002

CHICAGO -- A week before the union deadline for what would be baseball's ninth work stoppage, there is just as much talk in the Rays clubhouse about the possible strike as there is about balls and strikes.

CHICAGO -- A week before the union deadline for what would be baseball's ninth work stoppage, there is just as much talk in the Rays clubhouse about the possible strike as there is about balls and strikes.

"It's the topic of the day and that's what we're all talking about," pitcher Paul Wilson said. "We don't look like we should know anything about revenue sharing of any sort, but you'd be surprised how much people pay attention when it's something that hits home."

The Rays have the youngest team in the majors, but player representative John Flaherty said he has been impressed with the level of interest in the issues.

"It's been a popular topic," he said Friday. "Everyone knew there was a conference call today and right when I walked in the door there were guys asking what happened today. It's been that way through the whole process. I'm very happy this team has been as proactive as it has, wanting to be up on all the issues and know where we're at. Obviously they want to know what the future holds in the next week."

Because the Rays will be on the road when the strike would start, union officials on Friday began talking about making travel arrangements for the players and will start making specific plans, Flaherty said. "To the guys in this room that's obviously a concern -- how are they going to get home and what would the schedule be."

Manager Hal McRae and the coaches, who essentially are caught in the middle of the labor dispute, also have been immersed in conversation.

"It's on everybody's mind obviously," third-base coach Tom Foley said.

HOMER HAPPY: Ben Grieve hit his third homer of the week and 14th of the season. ... Toby Hall hit his first since July 18.

UPTON UPDATE: With no apparent progress this week in talks between the Rays and top draft pick B.J. Upton, the possibility is increasing the multitalented shortstop may attend college rather than sign. Upton has an offer from Florida State and is believed to be considering Chipola Junior College in the Panhandle town of Marianna and Riverside Community College in California.

UP AND DOWN: Steve Cox has been consistently inconsistency through the season, his first as an everyday player. McRae said that isn't a surprise.

"He's learning to play every day, and that's not easy, especially because he's 27 years old," McRae said. "It's the first opportunity he's had to play every day at the major-league level and it's not the same mind-set. It's much tougher to play every day, once you reach a certain age, for the first time."

MISSION COMPLETE: Tanyon Sturtze deserved his first career complete-game victory. Twice he pitched a complete-game eight innings in Rays losses. Four times he pitched nine innings in games that went extra innings. "Getting the complete-game win was really nice," he said.

UN-BEAR-ABLE: There was a large stuffed teddy bear -- the size of a small child -- wearing Brent Abernathy's jersey sitting on a chair at his locker as some sort of clubhouse gag. Abernathy said he didn't see the humor in it: "Not when we're the worst team in baseball."

MINOR MATTERS: Durham right-hander Lance Carter furthered his case for a promotion, improving to 11-2 and lowering his ERA to 2.88. More impressive, he has walked only 11 in 125 innings, striking out 84. ... Bakersfield outfielder Jonny Gomes is close to becoming the fourth Rays minor-league player to score 100 runs in a season; he went into play Friday with 98.

MISCELLANY: McRae kept sortstop Chris Gomez in the lineup and played Felix Escalona at second base in place of Abernathy, who is 0-for-14. ... Andy Sheets' bruised left leg continues to get better and he may be available tonight. ... The major league-leading 11 complete games are a team season record.

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