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Braves Open Park By Beating Yanks

A team wearing Atlanta Braves uniforms played its first home exhibition game on Saturday against the New York Yankees.

But it was a different Braves team from the one that ended last year’s baseball season by losing Game 6 of the World Series to the Yankees, and it was a different home field, as well.

Still, the Braves got off to a good start in their new surroundings with a 2-0 shutout against the Yankees before 44,456 fans.

The newly retooled Atlanta Braves played their first game in the newly remodeled Olympic Stadium, now called Turner Field.

In the seven months since the end of the 1996 Olympic Games, the stadium has been converted from an 80,000-seat track-and-field venue to a cozy 49,714-seat baseball park. Instead of the old stadium’s roomy foul territory - 100 feet from the baselines to the first row of seats - Turner Field, named for the longtime Braves’ owner, Ted Turner, will have only 45 feet of foul territory. That is certain to provide hitters with extra swings, because more foul balls will be out of play in the new stadium.

Beyond that, the dimensions of the new park are very close to those of the old field, with a distance of 401 feet from home plate to the center-field fence compared with 402 in the old park.

From its conception, the stadium was planned as a baseball park with a significant amount of temporary construction to allow for its use as the venue for the Olympic opening and closing ceremonies as well as track and field. More than 30,000 seats have been removed. The only reminder of the Games is the eccentric Olympic cauldron, barely visible over the right field fence but no longer connected to the stadium.

Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, the team’s home for the past 31 seasons, stands like a forlorn monument across the street, awaiting its scheduled demolition at the end of the season.

There’s no chance of the Braves ever moving back, not with a new, 49,000-seat stadium that combines many of the nooks and crannies of old-style parks with the modern, moneymaking devices such as luxury suites, a barbecue restaurant that overlooks the field in right-center and two giant souvenir and concession pavilions just beyond the center-field scoreboard.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” outfielder Ryan Klesko said. “Man, we were excited. It was hard to go to sleep last night.”

McDowell doubtful

Cleveland pitcher Jack McDowell, scheduled to pitch in Saturday’s exhibition game against the Chicago Cubs, may start the season on the disabled list.

McDowell, scratched from his last start of the spring with a strained abdominal muscle, stayed in Florida and is to pitch in a game Monday. If he’s OK, McDowell will join the Indians and start the third game of the season Thursday at Anaheim. If not, McDowell could be placed on the DL.

Mark Lewis, scheduled to be the starting third baseman for the San Francisco Giants, was placed on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to Friday because of bone chips in his right elbow.

Lewis is scheduled to undergo arthroscopic surgery today.

Texas Rangers first baseman Will Clark sustained a small fracture in the third finger of his left hand Friday when he tripped over a bullpen mound and may not start Tuesday’s season opener against Milwaukee.

Mighty Marlins

John Cangelosi scored the go-ahead run on Stan Belinda’s wild pitch as Florida beat Cincinnati 4-3 at Melbourne, Fla., to end spring training with a major-league best record of 26-5.

Bad news for Daulton

Terry Francona had to do the most difficult thing in his brief tenure as Philadelphia Phillies manager: He told Darren Daulton he can’t be an everyday player for the team he’s been with for 13 seasons.

After meeting with Daulton and Rico Brogna, Francona announced Brogna will be the first baseman when Philadelphia opens the regular season Tuesday at Los Angeles.

Brogna, 26, was acquired in a Nov. 27 trade with the New York Mets. Daulton, 35, the Phillies’ career home-run leader among catchers, is trying to become a first baseman after enduring nine knee operations during his career.

McGwire rejoins Athletics

Mark McGwire, who missed seven games because of back problems, went 1 for 3 with a single for the Oakland Athletics in their 3-2 exhibition loss to the San Francisco Giants at Oakland, Calif.

McGwire left camp in Arizona Wednesday and returned to Oakland for a cortisone shot in his lower back.

“Everything is fine,” McGwire said. “This is nothing new. I get them almost every year.”

Huffy Henderson

Baseball’s stolen-base king, Rickey Henderson, is not happy about the prospect of opening the season as San Diego’s fourth outfielder.

“I’ve been going with the flow, but I’m getting tired of the flow now,” said Henderson, 38. “I’m frustrated. I need to know what I’m going to do, where I’m going to be. Right now, I’m just going through the motions.”

Irabu’s back in U.S.

Hideki Irabu returned to the U.S. several days ago, but his arrival carried no signal that he was closer to joining any other major-league team. If anything, Irabu’s return may be an indication that he is moving further from pitching in this country this season at all.

The much-coveted Japanese pitcher who is holding out to try to force the Padres to trade him to the Yankees, arrived in Los Angeles Tuesday. He apparently returned to the U.S. so he could prepare for the season without the constant scrutiny he faces in Japan.

According to a U.S.-based official with Irabu’s Japanese club, the Chiba Lotte Marines, Irabu is about to offer his services back to his former team in hopes of gaining free agency under new Japanese rules by the end of the season.


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