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Teammates get behind Josh

By MARC TOPKIN
Published February 19, 2004

ST. PETERSBURG - When Devil Rays players learned Wednesday morning that outfielder Josh Hamilton had been suspended 30 days for violations of Major League Baseball's drug program, they expressed support for their troubled teammate.

When outfielder Carl Crawford talked to Hamilton, he did much the same, telling him he had nothing to be embarrassed about and he should focus on resolving his problems and getting back on the field to fulfill his promise as one of the game's top prospects.

"I know a lot of people are probably down on him today, but a special talent deserves special privileges," Crawford said. "I talked to him and I told him, "There ain't nobody here wondering about all that stuff. We just want to see (you) back on the field. We don't care about what happened. We just want to see you healthy now.' He said he was feeling better. Hopefully he's got his head straightened out."

Some players didn't want to talk about Hamilton and his problems. Those who did expressed compassion.

Toby Hall said, "We wish him well and hope he can hurry up and get back." Jared Sandberg said, "Someone with the talent he's got, you're just hoping he gets over his problems and gets back on the field and can be the star everyone said he could be, and can be."

"Definitely you feel for him," Damian Rolls said. "Whatever (his problems) are, that's his own personal business. But as a teammate, you look and say, I had the same dreams he had growing up, and he's had some minor setbacks. You just pray for him daily and hope he gets out of it and gets back to his dream. ... You want him to get it back together so he can continue on with his dream."

Manager Lou Piniella, who was impressed with Hamilton last spring, said: "It's in the hands of MLB. Let's hope that he gets clearance soon and that he can beat his problem and have a good baseball career."

FOUR DOWN, 42 TO GO: Piniella has been impressed by how the pitchers have looked and thrown.

"I've been pleased," Piniella said. "Nobody's skipped a turn, nobody's been in the training room. I've seen more strikes thrown already in camp this week than we saw for a good couple weeks last year. It's encouraging."

The workouts will increase in length and intensity when the full squad starts working out together Friday. Position players will take batting practice off coaches for the first three or four days, then start hitting against pitchers. A couple of intrasquad games are likely to be added around March 1.

WORK IT: Piniella said players seem to be reporting to spring training in better shape than they did years ago, looking stronger, leaner and faster.

And he thinks that may be why they get hurt more than players who would essentially hibernate and rest during the winter.

"There's a fine line, I think, between coming into camp super ready and somewhat ready," Piniella said. "Your body needs a rest during the offseason, too. I think one reason you see more injuries today than before is you don't have that "bear fat' to get rid of. These kids are lean and mean all the time."

MISCELLANY: Infielder Geoff Blum reported. ... Top 2003 draft pick Delmon Young showed up with a Hummer brother Dmitri bought him. "It was a graduation and draft gift," Delmon Young said.

[Last modified February 19, 2004, 02:00:25]

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