WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - The first day of workouts for pitchers and catchers went without a hitch Saturday morning, thanks to the Tommie Aaron Training Center, a cavernous building housing three batting tunnels and six mounds.
"We're lucky with the tunnels," manager Bobby Cox said. "We don't miss a beat."
The center, constructed about nine years ago, has served the Braves well over the years. That's why they decided to include a similar building at their new spring headquarters at Disney. The new complex will include two tunnels with four batting cages in each, allowing 16 pitchers to work at the same time. ...
The club's impending departure from West Palm Beach, where it has trained since 1963, has impacted game ticket and season ticket sales at Municipal Stadium. Ticket manager Ham Higgins figures season ticket sales are off by about 100 and game ticket sales are also down.
"I think it's partially due to the team moving," he said. "There are people upset about the move."
The Braves drew a total of 64,417 fans to Municipal Stadium last spring, an average of 5,368 for 12 dates, and set a single game attendance record of 8,516 for a game against the Indians. So far this spring no game has been sold out and plenty of tickets are available.
Meanwhile, the local paper continues to fan the flames of the fans' anger at the club's move north.
"After a 35-year marriage," a story in the Palm Beach Post read Saturday, "the National League champion Braves split for Walt Disney World next spring, where they will be just another attraction along U.S. 192 with Alligatorland, Reptile World and Xanadu, Home of the Future. Make a reservation for a Disney character breakfast with Mickey, Goofy and Chipper Jones."
The Expos, who share the facility with the Braves, would love to duplicate Atlanta's success here. Unfortunately, they won't have the opportunity. They plan to move to a new complex in Jupiter, which they will share with the Cardinals, well away from West Palm Beach and the traffic flow of fans.
However, ground isn't scheduled to be broken until March and there's some doubt whether the facility will be ready by next spring. Meanwhile, plans are being made to tear down Municipal Stadium, though the wrecking ball won't swing until the Jupiter complex is completed.
Once the Expos leave, the city plans to sell the property to the Jehovah's Witnesses, who plan to buy the stadium and auditorium and perhaps erect shops and hotels on the site. ...
Left-hander Pedro Borbon, who is recuperating from elbow surgery and will miss the first two or three months of the season, is expected to arrive in camp today. ...
Infielder Mike Mordecai was among the early arrivals and immediately donned catcher's gear. He has some experience behind the plate and his skills allow Cox to carry an extra hitter, rather than a third catcher.
"I'll see if I can talk (Cox) into catching me in a game or two this spring," Mordecai said.
Even as he started his spring work, Mordecai's thoughts were back home in Birmingham, Ala., where his younger brother Scott is recuperating from a blood clot in his leg. Scott, an Army veteran of the Gulf War, has been in and out of hospitals for five years and like many other veterans has experienced difficulty in convincing the government his illness is related to his service in the Middle East.
"It's a shame that people drag their feet," Mike Mordecai said. "The doctors have told him he can't work for three to six months and the money should be coming from the government and it hasn't." ...
Outfielder Jermaine Dye underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee to remove and stitch some cartilage last November and plans to wait a few more days before testing it.
"I haven't tried to run on it yet, but as far as hitting it's no problem," he said.
Dye, who reported to camp with the pitchers and catchers Friday, is wondering where he fits into the outfield equation. Unless the Braves move an outfielder by trade or shift Ryan Klesko from left field to first base if Fred McGriff is shipped elsewhere, Dye won't receive much playing time and could start the season at Class AAA Richmond.
"I'm sure they know I can play at this level," said Dye, who hit .281 in 98 games after replacing David Justice in right field last year. "They know there are some decisions that have to be made." ...
Reliever Brad Clontz has switched numbers, discarding No. 52 in favor of No. 30, mostly for superstitious reasons.
"I would have liked to have had it my first year, but Mike Stanton was wearing it," he said. "Then, I had a good first year and I didn't want to jinx myself by switching numbers. Now, I think it's a good time to change."
Clontz wore No. 30 at Rookie League Pulaski in 1992 and Greenville in 1994 and is happy to have it beck.
"Now I won't be the last player to be introduced during the postseason," he said.