Fleury of activity at park

WES GILBERTSON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:15 AM ET

With a small army of reporters surrounding a rickety plastic table, Felix Jose probably figured he was on his way back to the big-time.

Turns out, he was just warming up the crowd for the headline act.

It's not everyday a veteran of 11 major-league seasons signs on to play baseball in the Stampede City, but the hulking slugger was hardly the main attraction yesterday at Foothills Stadium.

When Theoren Fleury finally strutted out of the locker-room in a No. 14 Calgary Vipers jersey, nothing short of a Barry Bonds sighting would've taken attention off the former Flames star.

"I look at this as an opportunity to have some fun and enjoy myself and be out in the sun," Fleury said after taking batting practice, peppering the shallow left-field grass with a string of line drives.

"We've had snow and rain and sleet and hail, and you can't pour concrete, so it's nice to get out here and play some baseball."

Jose, the second former major-leaguer the Vipers have signed in the past week, admitted he'd never heard of Fleury but did attend a hockey game once and was eager to see what the agitator-turned-concrete-layer could do.

"It will be interesting to see a hockey player take batting practice," said Jose, who is from the Domincan Republic. "We'll check him out and give him some advice. Hopefully we can get some advice, too, to try to play some hockey sometime."

The Vipers (2-2) will host the Edmonton Cracker-Cats in their home-opener Friday night.

Jose, 42, will become the club's designated hitter and -- judging by his broad shoulders and major-league resume -- figures to bounce a few balls off the siding of the Red and White Club.

In 747 big-league outings, spread over stops in Oakland, St. Louis, Kansas City, New York and Arizona, he racked up 54 home runs and 324 RBIs.

Fleury, whose stat line centres around goals, assists and penalty minutes, just wants to be one of the guys.

The Vipers brass realizes it's a one-of-a-kind marketing opportunity, and the Golden League has already approved a roster exemption that would allow Fleury to take the field in a regular-season game.

If his brief appearance yesterday was any indication, Fleury, who was dogged by substance abuse, will be a hit. Even if the 'real' ball players, such as Jose, will have to shove over and share the spotlight.

"I'm really fortunate because it's a good story," Fleury said. "It's a real good story -- from where I was to where I am today. I just have so many great people in my life that support all the crazy ideas that I have."

Not a 'publicity stunt'

The Calgary Vipers knew they'd be getting 10 double-dipped maple bats. What they didn't count on was an avalanche of publicity.

Since trading right-hander John Odom to the United League's Laredo Broncos for a shipment of lumber last week, the club has made headlines around the globe.

"It's only because we didn't try to make it a publicity stunt," said Vipers president Peter Young. "We just put it out on the transactions exactly the way the trade went. And then all hell broke loose."

The Vipers picked up the bats, manufactured by Red Deer-based Prairie Sticks, on the way back from a four-game set in Edmonton.

The company also coughed up 10 custom-made bats, which will be autographed by the Vipers and auctioned off on eBay, with all proceeds going to the club's Snakes and Batters children's charity.


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