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BASEBALL DAILY REPORT : DODGERS : Piazza Adjusts to Bigger Fan Demands

March 02, 1994|MARYANN HUDSON

With success has come attention, and there is nobody at Dodgertown generating more fan interest than catcher Mike Piazza, who is learning to deal with it the best he can.

"I know that my job is to play baseball, and above that I try to accommodate everybody I can, but it's difficult sometimes," Piazza said Tuesday at Vero Beach, Fla.

"Undoubtedly people will say that you have changed, but you have to make some changes in order to get your job done. I would like to sign autographs for everybody, but I can only do the best that I can."

When Piazza finishes his daily workouts, he usually goes back to his condominium on the beach, where he rooms with first baseman Eric Karros and pitcher Greg Hansell, and regroups.

"I try to take a walk on the beach and do something like feed the sea gulls," Piazza said. "It helps to keep my mind simple. Because I know that someday all of the fanfare will end, and when it's over, I want to be the same person that I was before."

Piazza's recently signed contract, $4.2 million for three years, has set a precedent for other players in the organization and also seems to be helping players on other clubs, such as Angel outfielder Tim Salmon, who has been offered a four-year, $7-million deal.

The next Dodger player to benefit from Piazza's contract will probably be shortstop Jose Offerman, whom the Dodgers are close to signing to a two-year contract. Besides Offerman, only pitchers Pedro Astacio and Kip Gross remain unsigned.

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Under the guidance of hitting coach Reggie Smith, outfielder Darryl Strawberry has altered his swing this spring. The wide loop at the start has been minimized and the follow-through elongated. The results in batting practice have been positive.

Smith said the loop, which has been part of Strawberry's trademark swing, needed to be reduced because it put added stress on Strawberry's surgically repaired back. "I think that's what caused (his back problem) in the first place," Smith said.

Executive Vice President Fred Claire said reports on the condition of Strawberry's back are good. "(Team physical therapist) Pat Screnar said the Darryl we have known has never been stronger," Claire said. "He put on another awesome display today in batting practice, but the most exciting thing is the freedom of his swing--he's not restricted in any way and he is able to swing day after day." Claire said that to his knowledge, Strawberry has not experienced any new difficulties off the field, adding: "He has worked hard, his approach has been great, his attitude gets an A."

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Roger Cedeno, a top outfield prospect for the Dodgers, injured a knee while sliding in a winter league playoff game a month ago and will have arthroscopic surgery later this week.

Cedeno, who is only 19, has risen through the ranks so quickly that, depending on the condition of his knee, he is scheduled to play in Albuquerque this season. He is a switch-hitter, mainly for average but with some power, and plays both center and left field.

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