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Draw must be wins, not Lou

By KEVIN KELLY, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 14, 2003


ST. PETERSBURG -- They added a manager with hometown ties who has a reputation for cultivating talent.

But as they open their sixth season today at the Naimoli complex, the Devil Rays are aware that winning is what will fill seats at Tropicana Field.

"Winning is going to attract fans to the Trop and Lou Piniella helps us win," general manager Chuck LaMar said Thursday. "You put a winning product at Tropicana Field and you're not going to hear any more about driving across bridges. You're not going to hear about concessions. You're not going to hear about parking. You're not going to hear about anything. They're going to come."

By addressing defensive needs during the offseason with the additions of shortstop Rey Ordonez, second baseman Marlon Anderson and first baseman Travis Lee, the Rays believe they've bettered their chances of success.

Piniella has said he hopes the Rays can set a franchise record for wins this season and, in three years, be able to compete in the AL East.

"Our job here basically is to get to .500 first," he said. "The quicker we can get this thing to .500, the better off we're going to be as an organization, and from there we can take the next step forward.

"I think that's going to be done here quicker than people anticipate."

KEEP AN EYE ON: One of the most interesting story lines will be where some players wind up.

When Steve Cox was sold to the Yokohama Bay Stars during the offseason, signs pointed to Aubrey Huff inheriting the first-base job. But Huff, who started 37 games at first last season, must compete with signees Lee and Lee Stevens and could be considered at DH and third base.

"We're going to let it all play out," Piniella said. "Huff is going to be in the lineup. It's just a question of where. Huff's a legitimate major-league hitter."

ROLE CALL: Relief pitcher Jesus Colume, who received minor injuries in a fatal car accident last week in the Dominican Republic, is expected to be present, but the Rays aren't sure of his condition. Of the 45 pitchers and catchers scheduled to report, a handful may be delayed by visa problems.

MINOR MATTER: Twenty-seven of the Rays' top prospects will be at the Naimoli complex to observe major-league workouts in the morning, then work out after that beginning Thursday.

IN THE COMMUNITY: The Rays and Tropicana Field host the All Children's Hospital Happy Heart Party this afternoon. Heart surgery patients and their families from around Florida will meet players and tour the clubhouse. ... Piniella's weekend schedule will be busy. Saturday, he is scheduled to sign autographs from 2:30-4 p.m. at FanFest at Tropicana Field, then serve as grand marshal of the Sant'Yago Knight Parade at 6 p.m. in Ybor City. At 6 p.m. Sunday, Piniella is hosting a dinner and auction at the Palm Restaurant at WestShore Plaza to benefit the Boys and Girls Clubs of Tampa Bay.

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