ATLANTA -- John Rocker's trash-talking was fine in Atlanta when it was directed at the New York Mets or some of their battery-tossing fans, but his tirade against immigrants and homosexuals sparked outrage even at home.
"His racist opinions are just, to me, a representation of a very ignorant and uneducated person," said Sara Gonzalez, president of Atlanta Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
Terri Watson, shopping at the Braves Clubhouse store Wednesday, described herself as a Rocker fan -- or maybe a former one.
"I sure hope I don't get a Rocker jersey for Christmas now. And I asked for one," she said. "If he can't come up with a good explanation for why he's a bigot and a racist, he needs to change his views and do some soul-searching."
Rocker, 25, said Wednesday that he was contrite and admitted that he went "way too far" in his attempts to criticize New York. The comments, which appear in the current issue of Sports Illustrated, offended minorities, single mothers, and people with AIDS.
"The biggest thing I don't like about New York are the foreigners," he said. "You can walk an entire block in Times Square and not hear anybody speaking English. Asians and Koreans and Vietnamese and Indians and Russians and Spanish people and everything up there. How the hell did they get in this country?"
Rocker, who lives in Macon and was born in the southeast Georgia town of Statesboro, said he would retire before ever playing for a New York team.
"Imagine having to take the 7 train to (Shea Stadium) looking like you're (in) Beirut next to some kid with purple hair, next to some queer with AIDS, right next to some dude who got out of jail for the fourth time, right next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids," said Rocker. "It's depressing."
Tony Braswell, executive director of AID Atlanta, said he attended the playoff game in New York and was shocked by the rude behavior of Mets fans. But he was even more offended by Rocker's comments.
"Welcome to the real world, Mr. Rocker," he said. "The world is made up of people from India and Korea and Vietnam and Spain and Russia and people with purple hair and queers living with AIDS. There are men, women and children of all walks of life living with AIDS."
The eccentric Rocker, who sprints in from the bullpen before every appearance and pumps his fist after big strikeouts, said his comments were a mistake.
"Even though it might appear otherwise from what I've said, I am not a racist," he said in a written statement. "I should not have said what I did, because it is not what I believe in my heart. I was angry and basically firing back at the people of New York."
Rocker has said that New York Mets fans insulted his mother and threw batteries at him during the National League Championship Series
Braves General Manager John Schuerholz said he planned to meet with Rocker as soon as possible. But he said it was premature to discuss disciplinary action until he had a chance to determine exactly what Rocker said.
"There's no way to explain it," Braves outfielder Brian Jordan told Atlanta's WQXI-AM. "You can't respect a guy that makes comments like that publicly."
Despite his combative personality on the mound, Rocker is active in charity, working with the Georgia Children's Home and Scottish Rite Hospital. Just this weekend, he pitched to an 8-year-old Warner Robins boy who suffers from a rare immune system disorder.
"I fully intend to learn from this experience," Rocker said. "Everyone makes mistakes, and I hope everyone can put this aside and begin with a fresh start in the 2000 season."
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