Elliott on Baseball

BOB ELLIOTT -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 12:40 PM ET

With an NHL agreement on the horizon, how should players comport themselves?

Is it wise for Philadelphia Flyers centre Jeremy Roenick to tell fans that "they can kiss (his butt) if they think hockey players are spoiled."

Left fielder George Bell told Blue Jays fans -- after crashing into the wall and dropping a liner off the bat of Baltimore's Bob Melvin -- that they could "kiss (his) purple butt," in 1989.

"I think the first question fans should ask themselves about the hockey dispute is who locked out whom?" Steve Rogers of Tulsa, Okla., said. Rogers was the Montreal Expos' player representative in 1981 as baseball went through a 51-day strike and currently works for the Major League Baseball Players Association.

"Players bear the brunt of criticism from fans because players are seen by fans -- no one sees an owner," Rogers said. "In any agreement there is a joint responsibility to bargain to a fair and equitable agreement, but when one side locks the other out you have to question their approach. What was ownership thinking?"

Rogers was there in 1981 when play resumed after the strike. There was resentment toward players in a lot of cities, but in Montreal, the Expos were in the race and advanced to post-season play.

"From what I know about the talks the NHL did everything in its power to reach a settlement," Rogers said. "Players have the fans' best interests at heart. No matter the sport there is a real affinity between players and the fans.

"When the NHL players come back I know they will remember the fans."

We have seen some polls in which hockey fans have sided with ownership against the players.

"I'm not sure who has the better P.R. machine, but it could be a case of the owners winning the battle, but losing the war," Rogers said. "I do know that the players will embrace the fans."

CHERRY PICKING

Reliever Stephen Spragg is from the Ontario hamlet of Cherry Valley (pop. 273), just south of Picton. He played for teams in Belleville and Bloomfield before moving on to the Ontario Blue Jays under coach Dan Bleiwas.

Then he went off to school. Spragg pitched two seasons at the Kansas City Junior College, then transferred to Liberty University, where he pitched in the spring of 2004.

This spring he was at Augusta State in Augusta, Ga., where he was 3-3 in 26 appearances with a 3.30 ERA and seven saves.

After school he was drafted and signed by the Washington Wild Things of the independent Frontier League.

Spragg picked up his first save Wednesday as the Wild Things held on to beat the Chillicoate Paints 14-12 at Falconi Field in Washington, Pa.

Spragg is 2-0 with a 2.45 ERA in 13 games walking seven and striking out 16 in 18 1/3 innings.

As in every home date, the Wild Things staff selected two paying customers to lead the announced sell-out crowd of 3,193 in a chorus of Wild Thing in the eighth inning on Wednesday.

And this night the two standing atop the first-base dugout were Chris Nagorski and Chris Rutherford of the Mississauga North Tiger bantams.

Rutherford won a dinner for two as the best singer and dedicated the song to "the girl in the blue," who had cheered during his singing.

QUESTIONS

* Is there a better team suited to be the Jays' natural rival than the Detroit Tigers, now that the Expos are no more?

* Does Friday's outing at Fenway Park put Ted Lilly back onto the most wanted list of contenders?

* The Jays continue to search for a catcher, but where will they find him?

WORLD CUP LINEUP

So, what happens to Team Canada's chances in the World Cup if Larry Walker of Maple Ridge, B.C., and the St. Louis Cardinals, decides to retire and if closer Eric Gagne of Mascouhe, Que., is still injured?

Well, we're seven months away before the rosters are named for the first event to be staged next March.

When looking at the potential roster, it always was from the perspective of "if everyone is healthy," and "if everyone wants to play."

If Walker doesn't have a contract for 2006, is it worth him to go through an off-season workout to get ready for three round-robin games and a couple of exhibitions?

The best guess was that Jason Bay of Trail, B.C., Adam Stern of London, Ont., and Walker would be the outfield. If Walker doesn't play, Canada could turn to Kansas City Royals' Matt Stairs, of Saint John, N.B.

Aaron Guiel of Langley, B.C., who had 16 homers at triple-A Omaha, or Ryan Radmanovich of Calgary, who was in right field at the Olympics and is now hitting .340 with the Somerset Patriots of the independent Atlantic League, are options.

And if Gagne isn't healthy, then Canada would turn to Ryan Dempster of Gibsons, B.C., currently closing for the Chicago Cubs, or Calgary's Chris Reitsma, a set-up man with the the Atlanta Braves.

And for facing Team USA? Well, Victoria's Rich Harden of the Oakland A's; lefty Erik Bedard, of Navan, Ont., and the Baltimore Orioles; and fellow southpaw Jeff Francis, of North Delta, B.C., and the Colorado Rockies, have combined for 17 wins in 35 starts this season against the best in the world.

ADVANTAGE ANGELS

Angels pitchers received expert tutorials this spring and on visits to minor-league clubs. GM Bill Stoneman, who pitched two no-hitters with the Expos, spoke to groups of pitchers explaining basics.

Stoneman tried to get some of his young farmhands to try the old-fashioned over-the-head windup. He wanted them to be more natural and more athletic in their deliveries.

What with the advent of the metal bat in amateur ball, coaches have stressed pitch command above everything. Stoneman pointed out that the more movement in the windup leads to less command of pitches, and less movement allows for better pitch command.

Stoneman says the result is that pitchers do not throw as hard, are more prone to injury and pitch far fewer innings than they used to. Stoneman asks "can you imagine people like Bob Gibson, Tom Seaver, Gaylord Perry, Don Drysdale, Sandy Koufax, Warren Spahn, Jim Bunning, Dean Chance, Mickey Lolich, Catfish Hunter, Fergie Jenkins, Nolan Ryan, Luis Tiant, Juan Marichal and Don Sutton being told that they have far too much movement in their deliveries and that they should pitch using a static delivery?"


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