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AFLers talk about contraction

By Jack Magruder
November 14, 2001

Brandon Phillips
SCOTTSDALE--Grand Canyon Rafters outfielder Mike Restovich grew up in Rochester, Minn., 75 miles south of the Twin Cities, and is one step away from playing for the team he and his father grew up on, the Minnesota Twins.

Major League Baseball's proposed contraction may be all that stands in the way.

"Obviously it's a dream to make the big leagues," said Restovich, a second-round Twins draftee in 1997 who hit .269-23-84 at Double-A New Britain this summer in the Eastern League. "To make it as a Twin would be that much more special. Not only as a player to see my team go, but as a fan to see the team go, would be disappointing. It is and will be a real shame if it happens."

Arizona Fall League players in the Minnesota and Montreal organizations--the franchises seemingly targeted in baseball's attempt to downsize to 28 teams--say all they can do now is to proceed with business as usual.

"We basically still have to do our job, play baseball," Scottsdale shortstop Brandon Phillips (Expos) said. "Obviously, our team wants to stay together. We want to be Expos. I don't think Montreal is going to go away. I think it is most likely that the Expos move. I think that would be the best thing.

"We can't help it that we were drafted by the Montreal Expos. Montreal has been one of the best organizations--Randy Johnson, Andre Dawson, Larry Walker. They shouldn't get rid of them. We're helping all the other teams in baseball, too. We should still be a team.

"It's a dream to become a major league baseball player. Since I was drafted by this team, I want to be a major league baseball player with this team."

Scottsdale righthander Donnie Bridges was the Expos' first-round pick in 1997.

"It's kind of a weird time," Bridges said. "It's exciting, but on the other hand it's disappointing. It's exciting because you might get a chance to play for another team. You may get picked up by a team that has a chance to win and be in the playoffs and the World Series.

"But it would be disappointing to leave your other teammates. A lot of players could lose jobs over this. You never know what is going to happen. It's up in the air for everybody."

At least Grand Canyon righthander Grant Balfour and third baseman Mike Cuddyer can say they made the majors with Minnesota, since both spent time with the parent Twins this summer.

"If there's contraction, there's contraction. What are Grant Balfour or Mike Cuddyer going to do about it? Go with the flow," said Balfour, a native of Australia who signed as a free agent with the Twins when he was 19, in 1997.

"If they come up with a plan of taking guys in a draft, so be it. I don't like the idea of it. Losing all the mates you've played with over the years, starting over again with a new club. You have to impress the people with the new club."

Cuddyer, the Twins' first-round pick in 1997, had a big 2001 season in New Britain, going .301-30-87 with 36 doubles.

"It's definitely a tough situation for us," said Cuddyer, considered the organization's No. 1 prospect. "Obviously, we want our organization to be around.

"During the offseason it might be difficult, because it is going to be on everyone's mind. There will be a lot of uncertainty. A lot of watching TV and listening to the radio, wondering what is going to happen."

Restovich plans to return home to Rochester for the winter.

"Obviously in Minnesota, everybody was a big fan of Kirby Puckett," Restovich said. "The Twins have a great history. There would be a lot of people, not only in Minnesota but in the Dakotas, who would be impacted.

"I've thought a lot about it, with all different scenarios. Where will I be in a year? We've heard so many different things. We feel as strongly as we did when we heard it, but we realize it is out of our hands."

While commissioner Bud Selig is talking about contraction as a certainty for 2002, Restovich isn't. As a probable 40-man roster addition later this month, he will be part of the union, which has yet to play a role in contraction but is expected to oppose the loss of 80 jobs (two teams' 40-man rosters).

"I can't imagine them getting all the lawsuits and grievances by the players figured out by spring training," Restovich said. "Beyond thinking about what happens in this offseason, you wonder what will happen in the next offseason. If we get through this offseason, it will be a definite relief."

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