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Friday, June 30
Callous keeps Rocker from pitching

Associated Press

NEW YORK -- The New York Mets' die-hards didn't turn out for John Rocker Battery Night.

Some New Yorkers may be ready to forgive Rocker
NEW YORK (AP) -- Maybe it was John Rocker's contrition, or maybe the heavy police presence surrounding him, but some New Yorkers seem ready to forgive their major league menace.

"He's an excellent pitcher. He's just got the wrong attitude," said 12-year-old Josh Chaplain, of Great Neck, N.Y., as he awaited the first pitch between the Mets and Braves at Shea Stadium on Friday night. "If he just cleans up his act and apologizes and not come back and say something else, New York will forgive him."

Before the second game of the Mets' four-game series against Atlanta, Rocker emerged from a door behind left field and headed toward the stands to sign a few baseballs.

As he came closer, eager fans tossed baseballs, T-shirts and at least one glove for him to sign. The barrage prompted Rocker to walk away, surrounded by police. And even then, nobody blamed him.

"He was trying to be cordial, but he was getting bombarded and so he walked off," said Seth Ott, one of the fans nearby.

Eddie Samradli, speaking with his 9-year-old son Jonathan looking on, said he didn't really wish Rocker any harm. "He apologized yesterday and people in New York are better than him, so they'll forgive him," Samradli said.

And Anthony Brown, 27, of Jersey City, N.J., simply compared Rocker to the Indiana Pacers' talkative star, Reggie Miller. "I don't hate the guy," he said. "He's a professional."

And the fans who did come didn't get to see New York's most hated man, who cracked under pressure -- the thumb of his pitching hand, that is.

"I really let the team down," Rocker said after the Mets rallied from a seven-run deficit, scoring 10 times in the eighth inning for an 11-8 victory Friday night.

Rocker threw one warmup pitch in the bullpen in the seventh inning, and a callous on the thumb of his left hand started bleeding.

"Situations like tonight," Rocker said, "are the times that I pitch."

For months, fliers had been distributed outside Shea Stadium, calling for fans to gather behind the right-field fence before Friday night's game, where they would be given batteries to throw at the controversial reliever, their No. 1 villain.

But there was no gathering out by the entrance to the No. 7 train, which Rocker did not take for the second straight day, instead preferring a police-escorted black van. The only evidence of any protest was a 40ish man selling T-shirts that read "Battery Day Shea 2000/John Rocker .../Beat the Braves."

The heavy police presence -- 700 officers -- was evident for the second straight night. At the Thursday opener of the four-game series, there were no incidents, although police arrested two people -- one for disorderly conduct, another for entering a "players only" zone -- and issued 63 summonses for open containers of beer, police spokesman Sgt. Victor Ramos said.

On Friday, there were three arrests for disorderly conduct and one for assualt, plus seven for scalping and 26 for vending without a license. In addition, there were 246 summonses issued for alcohol use, according to New York police department Det. Robert Samuel. None of the arrests were related to Rocker, he said.

Fans did get to boo Thursday as Rocker ran to the mound and pitched a perfect eighth inning in Atlanta's 6-4 win.

In contrast to Thursday, there was much less fan and media interest during batting practice Friday night, which was a sellout, partly because postgame fireworks were on the schedule.

Rocker, whose xenophobic comments to a reporter in December caused baseball to suspend him for the first two months of the season, arrived at Shea Stadium about 2-1/2 hours before game time but wouldn't talk with reporters.

"Nah, I've got stuff to do," he said when asked if he would discuss Thursday's game.

Standing out shagging flies in left field, he signed a few autographs for fans in the bleachers, then ran for warmups.

He went into the left-field corner and four policemen coordinated as fans in the loge and mezzanine tossed balls and gloves down onto the field for the reliever to sign. Rocker signed about 50 autographs for 10-15 minutes. At first, he threw the balls and gloves back to the fans. Later, he handed the objects to police, who tossed them back.

"Everyone hates you, but they want you to sign something. They're all a bunch of sellouts," 22-year-old Joe Giammarino said just before throwing a T-shirt to the field to get autographed.

The biggest pregame boos went to former-Met Bobby Bonilla, who started at third base for the first time this year. Chipper Jones, Atlanta's regular third baseman, returned home when doctors decided to induce labor in his wife, Sharon.

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