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Regina still pursuing Irabu

March 26, 1997

SAN DIEGO (AP) _ The general manager of the Regina Cyclones would love to have Hideki Irabu as his opening-day pitcher against the Moose Jaw Diamond Dogs.

Despite the contention by Japanese baseball officials that Irabu is not up for grabs among North America’s independent leagues, the Cyclones might offer the power pitcher a contract this week.

``It’s an opportunity to get in a rotation and keep his arm alive for 1997,″ said Murray Brace, GM of the Prairie League club. ``Don’t keep him out, let him play ball. Let’s be as positive as we can.″

The Cyclones are proceeding despite a letter Tuesday from Yoshiaki Kanai, the executive secretary of Japanese baseball, who said Irabu remains tied to the Chiba Lotte Marines and is prohibited from negotiating with anyone else.

``Player Hideki Irabu is NOT a free agent,″ Kanai wrote. ``He is under the reserve list of the Chiba Lotte Marines who is now paying his pro-rated salary in accordance with Rule 71 of the Japanese Professional Baseball Agreement in attempt to contract his services for the 1997 season.″

Irabu will make $400,000 this year for being on the Marines’ reserve list, but he’s repeatedly said he has no intention of pitching in Japan in 1997.

And the letter mentions nothing about Chiba Lotte granting the right-hander’s negotiating rights to the San Diego Padres in January as part of a working arrangement between the clubs. Nor does it mention the possibility of a suspension if Irabu signs with an independent club, which Irabu’s agent fears would be honored by the major leagues.

If Irabu signs with an independent team, ``it would be in violation of the rules of the Japanese Professional Baseball Agreement,″ Kanai wrote.

The letter ``is absolutely sketchy,″ Brace said. ``We will send an offer to his agency this week and we’ll let them give us some direction. I don’t think even major league baseball believes the contract is valid. I don’t think they want to be a bully. The bottom line is, we’re going to be the aggressor.″

Brace still thinks Irabu _ whose fastball has been clocked at 100 mph _ will end up in the major leagues this year. Irabu has refused to negotiate with San Diego, instead saying he’ll play only for the New York Yankees. He returned to Japan last week.

But until the Padres deal his rights, the Cyclones want a shot at Irabu and the publicity he’d bring the Prairie League, which ranges from Saskatchewan to Minnesota. Irabu has said he wants to play with Regina rather than work out by himself.

``He’ll be the first player who has affiliation with our team that will play in the major leagues,″ Brace said. ``Not many (independent) teams can say that. He’ll be a tremendous opening-day selection for the Regina Cyclones as our pitcher.″

The only problem is that the Cyclones’ opener isn’t until June 14, and the Padres could deal Irabu’s rights long before then. They’ve received several offers, the strongest being from the Yankees, New York Mets, Baltimore Orioles and Cleveland Indians.

Regina officials planned to write the Marines and ask them to clarify Irabu’s situation once and for all, and to say they’re pursuing Irabu with good intentions.

The St. Paul Saints of the Northern League, who signed Darryl Strawberry last year, also received a letter from Kanai and said they will hold off pursuing Irabu.

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