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Ms and Padres may come back

It's not set in stone, but expect the Seattle Mariners to be back at PGE Park next season for another exhibition game with the San Diego Padres.

Portland Family Entertainment has two years left on an agreement with the Padres to stage some type of exhibition at PGE Park. And judging from the success of last Friday's event, PFE will do what it can to assure a return engagement with the Mariners.

'I have had initial conversations with them,' PFE President Mark Schuster says. 'It is our plan to ask them to come back. (Portland) is an important market to them. I think they will be amenable to doing it. After we get into the season, we will start talking about next year.'

Seattle General Manager Pat Gillick was impressed, but not surprised, with the sellout crowd of nearly 20,000. Tickets were gone less than a half-hour after they were made available to the public.

'We thought we would sell out, but the time period, that's rather astounding,' Gillick says. 'We know there is interest down here. We gauge that 8 percent of our attendance (about 300,000 last season) at Safeco Field comes from this area.'

• Ichiro Suzuki mesmerized the crowd from the moment he stepped into the cage for batting practice two hours before game time. Moments later, the 5-9, 160-pound right-fielder launched a shot way over the right-field fence onto the Multnomah Athletic Club porch.

'That's (Willie) Stargell territory,' says Lee Pelekoudas, Seattle's vice president/baseball administration. Pelekoudas was working for the Portland Beavers in 1979 when Stargell, then a slugger for the Pittsburgh Pirates, parked one onto the MAC porch that fans still talk about.

Afterward, Ichiro told the Tribune he has never heard of Stargell. But he grinned when the batting practice blast was mentioned, pointed to his biceps and said in English, 'I have some power.'

To get some extra rest, Ichiro left for a pinch runner after a hit in the seventh. The American League's stolen base leader in 2001 says he has been removed for a pinch runner before, 'but I don't remember when.' It certainly didn't happen last season with the M's.

• A few of the Mariners granted requests from hundreds of pre-game autograph seekers, but none took as much time as second baseman Bret Boone, who jumped atop the club's dugout roof to sign for about a half-hour.

'I do it once in awhile everywhere I go,' Boone says. 'It's nothing you plan. Sometimes you do it. The fans here don't get to see us. They are from our neck of the woods. They followed us and supported us last year. They are out here and all excited about seeing a big-league game when it's a minor-league city.'

Ouch.

The Mariners, with the star power of Ichiro and their recent success, have become America's team.

'We have had great support throughout the country, but especially in the Northwest,' says Boone, an 11-year veteran. 'Fans are going crazy over the Mariners. I have never seen anything like it. It's a neat deal, it really is.'

• Major league umpires Dale Scott and Jim Joyce, both Portland residents, worked the Seattle-San Diego game with a third Oregon native Ñ Scott Higgins from Roseburg. Higgins, 33, is an 11-year veteran who has worked part time in the big leagues the last two seasons.

Dale Scott, incidentally, is a University of Oregon fan who brings his Duck basketball cap with him wherever he goes. Joyce, evening the score, showed up last Friday with a new Oregon State cap. 'My son is going to Oregon State,' he says. 'I was a Duck fan before, but he is going to Oregon State. I have to change my colors.'

• Seattle Manager Lou Piniella, on Portland's chances of landing a major-league baseball franchise: 'It is going to be very difficult, quite frankly. It is located so close to Seattle, and baseball has been talking about downsizing opposed to expanding, and the last few expansion sites haven't worked out all that well.

'This is a wonderful city. They support the Trail Blazers very well. And I like (PGE Park). It reminds me a lot of Fenway. It is going to be a fun place to watch Triple-A Ñ the Beavers, right? Ñ this summer. But a major-league team, it is going to be difficult.'

• ESPN broadcaster Harold Reynolds is pessimistic, too, about Portland's chances, though he understands better than Piniella that the only real chance is for an existing franchise to move here.

'They are just too late in the ballgame,' the Corvallis native says. 'Washington, D.C., is on the top of the list.'

Reynolds says aside from Montreal, the franchise most likely to move isn't Oakland but Anaheim. Commissioner Bud Selig, he says, is still intent on eliminating the Minnesota Twins after the 2002 season.

• After a tense four-man battle during spring training, Ben Petrick made the Colorado Rockies' opening-day roster. The ex-Glencoe High standout, who turns 25 Saturday, opens the season as the backup catcher behind starter Gary Bennett.

The Rockies released veterans Carlos Hernandez and Tony Eusebio to make room for Petrick, who hit .322 during September call-ups in 1999 and 2000 after moving his way up through the Colorado farm chain.

When veteran Brent Mayne was traded to Kansas City last June, the Rockies basically handed the every-day job to Petrick. Though Petrick floundered Ñ and wound up hitting .238, with 11 homers and 39 RBIs for the season Ñ he entered spring training with the starting job apparently his to lose.

He hit well (.297 in 37 at-bats) but didn't take enough charge at defense to beat out Bennett, who is stronger handling pitchers and batted .361 this spring.

Petrick says he has thought about a position change, 'but my ticket to the big leagues is behind the plate. That's my goal. I'm not thinking about any other position. I got a year (in the majors) under my belt, battled a lot of different adversities I created for myself. Now I am going to try to show I can play, and stay, at the big-league level.'

Petrick knows he is on the spot.

'It is a make-or-break year for Ben, no doubt,' says Colorado's All-Star first baseman, Todd Helton. 'He is doing fine. He has caught well, thrown well, and he is obviously hitting well. He is a very good athlete, but there are a lot of good athletes out here. Baseball is not about being an athlete. It is not about being able to play one good game of baseball. Anybody can do that. It is about being consistent and handling the grind of 162 games and being able to do it well.'

• Earlier this season, Steve Kerr received an e-mail from six students at a small university in Toronto, informing him they had named their intramural team after him. The Trail Blazer guard e-mailed back, and when Portland played in Toronto last month, he left them tickets for the game and hung out with them after the game.

The team name?

'The Steve Kerr All-Stars,' the veteran reserve says, adding, 'which is an oxymoron.'

• Four years removed from his last decathlon, Dan O'Brien is making a comeback at age 35. The former world record-holder and 1996 Olympic champion from Klamath Falls has set his goal: Olympic gold in 2004.

'This is going to be a process for me,' says O'Brien, who held the world record of 8,891 points for seven years. 'I took a look at the Americans in 2000 and just over 8,000 points made the Olympic team. There is an opportunity for me to not only make the U.S. team but challenge the best in the world.'

Contact Kerry Eggers at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..