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The fans don’t know them yet, but they soon will. The basebal

March 7, 1995

BRADENTON, Fla. (AP) _ The fans don’t know them yet, but they soon will. The baseball negotiations have broken off again, and replacement players are here to stay _ at least until opening day, and perhaps well beyond.

Call it replacement ball or faux baseball or un-baseball, it is now more than a late-winter curiosity and something to pass the time until the real players come back. Right now, it’s the only baseball there is.

Some of these guys are pressing 40 _ the Phillies’ Todd Cruz is 39 and a grandfather _ but for now, they’re the boys of spring. Barring an unforeseen break in the negotiations, they also might be the boys of summer.

So don’t look for Frank Thomas in the Chicago White Sox’s opening day lineup, though Pete Rose might be there _ Pete Rose Jr., that is. Not that Pete Sr. probably couldn’t get a few hits in replacement ball. The pitchers who couldn’t throw fastballs by hitters in Double-A five years ago are still trying to do it.

And what should these teams be called? They’re not the real Phillies, for example, so they’re known as the faux Phillies, or the Phil-ins. The Rangers are the Strangers, or the Texas Temps. Training in Fort Myers are the Minne-Pseudo Twins. The not-quite-the-Pirates are the counterfeit Bucs. The O’s are the Zeroes _ they’ve taken their ball and gone home, refusing to play fake baseball.

Now that they’ve played a weekend of replacement spring training games, a few trends have developed:

_Nobody’s talking. Fearful of alienating baseball’s ruling hierarchy and the ``It’s-still-baseball-and-isn’t-it-great?″ attitude, managers and coaches don’t dare proclaim they want their real players back. They also can’t say they sort of enjoy working with these major league wannabes, for fear of angering their striking players. So, for the most part, nobody says anything.

_There isn’t a shortstop in replacement baseball who doesn’t look at the baseball before throwing it to first. Ozzie Smith or Cal Ripken probably never did it once; these guys do, and that’s why there are so many infield singles.

_Every single player here thinks he already should be a major leaguer. He might have been released five times, but it’s always because he didn’t get along with his manager or someone in the personnel department hated him. It’s never because of the real reason _ most of them couldn’t play well enough.

The common lament: ``I just need a break.″ Give us a break.

_The fans often have been supportive, enthusiastic, and even noisier than the fans who usually frequent spring training. Maybe it’s because they’re just glad to see baseball back in whatever form, or they don’t know any better, but they really seem to like it.

Could be it be the players are friendly and willingly sign autographs? Pirates players were even seen introducing their wives and children to fans. Visit a real major-league game and see how many times that happens.

_The fastballs aren’t as fast, the breaking balls don’t break as sharply, the outfielders don’t get a jump on fly balls as quickly, infielders often hesitate before covering a bag. The best pitchers in replacement ball won’t be the fastest, but those who can change speeds. Tommy John in his prime would win 45 games in replacement ball.

_Where are the regular players? Nearly a week into sort-of-exhibition baseball, and not a striking player has been spotted carrying a picket sign. Or hiring someone to carry it for him.

_Teams seem to have scouted replacements as much for their news value as their talent levels. Scriptwriters couldn’t have invented stories as interesting as White Sox season-ticket holder Ed Koziol getting a tryout _ and sticking. As Wayne Busby walking down the street from the local bakery in Bradenton and landing a job with the Pirates. As the Mets’ Al Coghen going from driving a Teamster-controlled truck to driving in runs. As the Pirates’ Mark Doran, who went from appearing in the movie ``Rookie of the Year″ to trying to win the award as a replacement.

_These guys literally would run through a wall to play. Remember Rodney McCray, the unforgettable minor leaguer who crashed through the plywood outfield wall? He’s here. So is the Reds’ Matt Bragga, who tried to copy McCray’s oft-replayed feat by running face-first into an outfield wall. The trouble was it wasn’t plywood, but fortified wood. Ouch.

OK, so it’s not major-league baseball. But it’s baseball. Deal with it, America.

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