Originally created 06/05/99

McGwire filling ballparks



DETROIT -- There's no question Mark McGwire is the reason fans are jamming Tiger Stadium this weekend.

Not since Mark Fidrych talked to the ball and groomed the mound in 1976 has one player drawn fans to the old ballpark like McGwire, who's in Detroit with the St. Louis Cardinals for a three-game series with the Tigers.

About 40,000 fans are expected each game. During 12-plus years with the Oakland Athletics, McGwire hit more home runs at Tiger Stadium than any other park but his own. He hit his first major league homer at Detroit in 1986 and two years ago became one of just four players to hit a fair ball over Tiger Stadium's left-field roof.

"I don't think much about stuff like that," McGwire said before Friday night's game. "I let the media do it. I don't get caught up in stuff like that.

"This game is not an individual thing; it's not one guy. It's a team. It bothers me to see: `Mark McGwire and the St. Louis Cardinals come to town.' It's not just me. It's the St. Louis Cardinals."

Even four hours before game time, the usual crowd of autograph seekers outside the visiting team's entrance gate was much larger than normal. Most fans were wearing Cardinals caps, some sported McGwire jerseys or T-shirts and all had pens at the ready.

Not far away, a long line of concession workers stood along a stadium wall waiting to punch in for a busy night. A supervisor for SportService, the Tiger Stadium concessionaire, said up to 100 extra workers, including some from Cincinnati and Milwaukee, would be on hand for the weekend.

The stadium gates opened two hours before the first pitch, a half-hour earlier than usual. Fans immediately surrounded the Cardinals' dugout area, hoping for an autograph or at least a close-up photo opportunity when McGwire emerged from the dugout.

Others headed to the left-field seats in both the lower and upper decks, all with the hope of catching a batting practice homer off McGwire's bat. McGwire didn't disappoint.

He hit seven batting-practice home runs, including two over the left- field roof. One other ball cleared the roof but was a few feet foul.