An auspicious entrance for Rocker

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The Independent Online

John Rocker emerged from the Padres bullpen in the left-field corner and walked along the warning track to the opposing bullpen all the way in the other corner of the San Diego stadium, accompanied by a security guard in a red jacket.

It's not the normal way a visiting reliever shows up for work in San Diego.

Then again, Friday night's game wasn't the start of a normal trip for Rocker. It was his first road appearance since his two-week suspension for his comments about gays, minorities and immigrants.

Rocker never needed to warm up as the Braves beat the Padres 7-2 for their 11th straight win.

Fans perched along the rails, watching out of curiosity as Rocker took off his Atlanta Braves warmup jacket and started playing catch before the game. A teen-ager found an opening and called Rocker a "jerk."

A fan in a Padres cap shouted back, "Hey, he's a human being, leave him alone."

A few minutes later, Rocker walked over to the stands and the fans closed in to get autographs. With the exception of Rocker's snide comment to a photographer, it might have been any reliever signing autographs on a spring evening.

Rocker, who had no comment, just sneers, for the media before the game, even signed a New York Yankees cap for Eddie Solivan, 34, who said he was of Puerto Rican descent, grew up in Spanish Harlem in New York and now lives in suburban San Diego. Rocker signed a ball for Solivan's 7-year-old son, Steven.

"I think it's a good day," Solivan said.

As for Rocker's disparaging remarks, Solivan said: "At first you get mad, then it takes time, you think about what he said. The man did apologize. Everybody has a right to say something in this country."

That includes the fans.

"He's going to get booed," Solivan said. "Padres fans are proud, too. My friends who are coming to the game, they're all coming just to boo him."

As Rocker walked from the Braves dugout through foul territory to the bullpen in the right-field corner before the top of the third inning, he was greeted by hearty boos.

When the Braves finished batting practice, Rocker was the last to walk across the field to the dugout. He was warmly greeted by fans, many wearing Atlanta caps, T-shirts and jerseys.

"John, everyone should be able to voice their opinion," one woman shouted.

A young man gushed as he got an autograph: "Oh yeah, Rocker, man!"

But in another section, a Padres fan wasn't pleased.

"Hey, Rocker, I've got a white sheet I want you to sign," hollered Harry Maker, who said he was of Welsh, Irish, Spanish and Blackfoot Indian descent.

"I'm not a fan of anyone who makes racist remarks," Maker said after Rocker went into the clubhouse. "I thought that was totally inconsiderate, totally stupid that he put his mouth in a gear and didn't put his brain in action."

Maker said he doesn't hate Rocker.

"I hate his viewpoint. Racism has no place in baseball," he said.

It figures that Rocker will get a harsher reaction when he makes his first trip to New York in late June. His comments published in a magazine were directed at people he had seen in that city.

Rocker went on the road following a nine-game homestand in which he had four saves.

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