Rocker receives standing ovation in return to Braves

Paul Newberry,Ap
Wednesday 19 April 2000 00:00

John Rocker returned to a standing ovation on Tuesday night, pitching a scoreless ninth inning in his first game since rejoining the Atlanta Braves after a two-week suspension.

The crowd of 34,903 gave Rocker a big cheer when the reliever sprinted in from the bullpen. One fan held up a sign that read: "Rocker for President."

Rocker struck out the first hitter he faced, Philadelphia's Mickey Morandini, walked the next batter and then got two flyouts.

Rocker left with the score tied at 3. When he exited after his one-inning outing, many of the fans left Turner Field, too. The Braves eventually won 4-3 in 12 innings.

"It's all out of the way," said Braves outfielder Brian Jordan, one of the reliever's harshest critics initially. "Rocker's back. Hopefully, things will quiet down a little bit and we can get back to baseball."

Perhaps hoping to avoid another misstep, Rocker continued his policy of refusing to speak to the media about the controversy.

"Beat it, media," he barked at reporters who surrounded his locker after the game. "Are you deaf?"

There was hardly a hint of protest before the game, with Rocker hoping fans remember his fastball more than his comments about minorities, gays and immigrants.

Rocker said he heard only one negative remark while traveling with the Braves last weekend in Milwaukee.

"It's not a big deal," Rocker told TBS for an interview that aired before the game. "I think when the team starts winning and we get the ball rolling, all that will be forgotten."

His teammates made peace with the reliever during spring training and he had already pitched in Atlanta during an April 1 exhibition game.

"Before the season, I was thinking about this night the whole time," catcher Eddie Perez said. "But once the season started, I didn't remember anything about it until you guys brought it up."

Most fans arriving at the ballpark on a cool, windy night were ready to welcome the reliever back.

"There's not one person walking who hasn't opened his mouth and said something he regrets," said Sandra Seagraves, munching on a snack in the picnic area beyond the center-field stands. "He picked the wrong time to say the wrong thing. Unfortunately, he got crucified for it."

Her husband, Charles, added, "I'm going to stand up and cheer like crazy when he comes in."

But Larry Lee of New Orleans, in town for a convention, said he wouldn't cheer for Rocker.

"Personally, I'm not going to cheer for someone who seems to be a heck of a lot more prejudiced than he's letting on to be," said Lee, who is black. "I wasn't a big fan of him before and I'm certainly not now."

The Braves planned to put Rocker right back into his familiar role as closer. A year ago, he had 38 saves - one short of the franchise record - and his absence was felt as Atlanta splitons are most likely to come in New York, where Atlanta meets the Mets in a four-game series beginning June 29.

Already, photocopied fliers have been passed out at Shea Stadium advertising "John Rocker Battery Day" for Atlanta's first series in New York, where fans are still outraged by the pitcher's infamous interview.

"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," Rocker told the magazine.

He also said, "The biggest thing I don't like about New York are the foreigners. I'm not a very big fan of foreigners. You can walk an entire block in Times Square and not hear anybody speaking English.... How the hell did they get into this country?"

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