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Jordan's Debut Is No Hit : Baseball: He goes 0 for 3 with two strikeouts and drops a fly ball in right field.

March 04, 1994|MARYANN HUDSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SARASOTA, Fla. — Had this been the debut of any other minor league player, it would have passed unremembered. Most would try to forget it.

Michael Jordan went hitless in three at-bats against virtual minor league pitchers Thursday, striking out twice in the Chicago White Sox's intrasquad game.

He nearly got a hit his first time up when he lined a fastball to left-center field against the best pitcher he faced, right-hander James Baldwin, but was robbed by Warren Newson's diving catch.

Still, if the crowd of 1,736 at Ed Smith Stadium remembers anything about Jordan's performance, it won't be his near hit, it will be his near catch. Jordan dropped a fly ball to short right field that scored the go-ahead run.

"I knew everyone was looking at me, and I didn't want to make any mistakes," Jordan said. "I've made a lot of mistakes--I've made a lot of turnovers in my game--but every little one is crucial in this game.

"I wanted to catch the first one because everybody is sitting there thinking once they hit it to me, how will I respond? And I knew that, and I just didn't respond like I wanted. I'm glad I got another one hit to me so I left with people knowing that I can at least catch the ball."

Jordan was upbeat afterward, taking comfort that he was able to see pitches better, even if they were speeding by him. He was thrown a mixture of fastballs and breaking balls by three pitchers, including a left-hander. He called it a crash course in adjusting to pitchers.

"Next time I play, I will feel more comfortable knowing that I made at least one mistake, and struck out already, and next time it won't be quite as embarrassing," he said.

White Sox Manager Gene Lamont said it's too early to tell about Jordan. "The ball he hit today was probably the hardest one we hit," Lamont said. "He's improved a great deal, he's worked hard at it and that's why our players have accepted him. We will just have to see."

The longer this tryout continues, the clearer it becomes to those close to Jordan that it isn't about baseball, but is his way of grieving for his father, James, who was killed last year.

Jordan awakens each morning at 5 and arrives at the clubhouse while it's still dark, nearly two hours before the other White Sox players. On the drive in, he said he often looks over at the empty passenger seat and feels the presence of his father.

He even speaks to him. He tells his father that it's the two of them who are pursuing a baseball career together.

"He never grieved, and for all the criticism he is getting for doing this, if this is the way he's dealing with losing his father, then what's wrong with that?" said Bob Greene, a columnist for the Chicago Tribune who wrote a book with Jordan titled, "Hangtime." "He is down here doing this with his dad.

"This is a pretty solitary endeavor for him, but he is really making an effort to fit in. He feels pretty much like an outsider. When I was over there (at Jordan's rented home), he borrowed my media guide and was putting names to faces, so he could learn everybody's name faster."

If he doesn't make the White Sox roster by the end of spring training, Jordan said he would go to the minors for up to two years, but no longer.

"I must go out and continue to improve and hopefully I can prove my critics wrong, but I can't let them get into my head and put doubt in my head, because then, I might as well quit," he said.

"There were some good things that I saw today and I feel good about my skills and my chances, but I have to move forward and not let the critics set me back."

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