FORT MILL, S.C. - The Triple-A Charlotte Knights have worked hard to make Jose Canseco a star attraction.
Canseco knows the rest is up to him. He's hit 462 home runs in the major leagues and would love a chance to reach 500.
The 37-year-old slugger made his debut for the Chicago White Sox's Triple-A franchise last month, and the Knights and other International League teams have taken advantage. The teams let fans in early for batting practice, used his picture in full-page ads promoting games, and reminded everyone over and over about his success in the big leagues.
Fans appeared to pay attention at the outset: Attendance at Knights' home games jumped more than 50 percent - from about 3,000 to about 4,600 on average - in his first week with the team.
"He's made no bones about his desire to get back to the big leagues and get a shot at 500 home runs," Charlotte general manager Bill Blackwell said this week.
"He's willing to work and do what it takes to get that done. ... He's been good with the fans, with the media and made most of the outlandish requests that we make of him every day."
Canseco, released by the Montreal Expos after spring training, was hitting .215 (11-of-51) with five homers and nine RBI in 15 games through Thursday, but the buzz that surrounded his return has slowed. Charlotte had only 2,033 people at Tuesday's 7-3 loss to Scranton at the Knights Castle in Fort Mill, which is about 10 miles south of Charlotte.
"He's still rounding into shape," Blackwell said. "He had about a month layoff. He's just now starting to get timing and things back. Hopefully, he's going to break out and put up some monster numbers very shortly."
Canseco's solo homer Thursday night helped Charlotte top Scranton 4-2 to end a four-game losing streak.
Canseco never had trouble attracting notice. During his 17 years in the majors, he made headlines as much for his colorful lifestyle as his enormous baseball talent.
He would be on the news one day for hitting 42 homers and stealing 40 bases for Oakland in 1988 to become the first to the 40-40 milestone, then on the news the next day because he was dating Madonna or driving at 125 mph.
These days, he eases his rental car around the Charlotte area trying to learn about his latest baseball stop.
"I'm no better than these guys," Canseco said. "They're in Triple A, too, trying to make it up. We're all teammates. We're all in this together."
After signing a dozen baseballs that Blackwell gave him, Canseco smiled, and waved to a group of Little Leaguers.
"We couldn't ask for a better teammate," Charlotte reliever Clay Eason said. "He's been great."
Another International League club, the Syracuse SkyChiefs, experienced a small attendance surge last year when Deion Sanders joined it for a month, assistant general manager Tom van Shaack said. But as the novelty wore off, attendance slowed.
The SkyChiefs did what they could to showcase Canseco last week when the Knights played at Syracuse. The park opened about 45 minutes early for batting practice so people could watch Canseco, who also held a press conference where he talked about an autobiography he says is in the works.
Canseco's personality, and his ability to swat a baseball keep people interested, said Mike Watson, one of about a dozen fans watching BP before the Knights' game against Scranton on Wednesday.
Watson, visiting from Pittsburgh, jumped at the chance to see Canseco. "He was the best player in the game for a long time," Watson said. "Look what's he's done. It's incredible."
Each time Canseco batted during Wednesday's game, fans broke out with cheers of "Go, go, go, Jose!" He responded by driving in a run, albeit on a first-inning groundout.
Canseco thinks he's got two or three good seasons left. If that means spending all year with the Knights in hopes of proving himself again to major league teams, he says, "That's what I'm going to do. I want to play. I know I can do it."
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