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BRIAN RICHESSON Strike or not, minors play ball



Published: Sun, July 14, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Andy Milovich is caught in between. A baseball fan, he doesn't want players at the major league level to strike.

"It's on my mind more from a fan's perspective than a work perspective," Milovich said.

But you see, Milovich is also the general manager of the Mahoning Valley Scrappers. A strike means, possibly, that more fans would choose to watch minor league baseball by visiting Cafaro Field.

"Fans who spend money in a major league ballpark might come to a [Scrappers] game," Milovich said.

Not out of the clear

A strike continues to loom over baseball as players and owners have failed to agree on a new collective bargaining agreement. Although no date has been officially set, talk of a work stoppage has centered around August or September.

The good news for Scrappers fans is this: New York-Penn League baseball will continue no matter what happens.

The Cleveland Indians media relations department told us this week that a strike would most likely affect players on the team's 40-man roster. That means Class AAA Buffalo and Class AA Akron players would be affected, but no one lower.

Still, until they strike, no set-up is guaranteed, the Indians said.

"It looks like it's going to happen," Milovich said of a strike. "With the system the way it's set up, players have one option against owners, and that's to stop play. If not, owners will unilaterally impose their system.

"I'm befuddled at why they can't iron out their differences."

An ugly past

Baseball's last work stoppage occurred in 1994, when play was halted for 232 days and the World Series canceled.

That year, Milovich was working as the director of stadium operations for the Madison Hatters, the St. Louis Cardinals' former Class A Midwest League franchise in Madison, Wisc.

"Any time there's a work stoppage, it always comes down to the fans being disgusted of the greed," Milovich said. "The fans are the ones who lose out."

So they turn elsewhere for baseball.

"The last time they struck, in '94, minor league baseball attendance shot up," Milovich said.

Milovich continued to receive fan reaction the following year when he worked for the Erie SeaWolves in Erie, Pa.

"People told us in '95 in Erie that they wanted to come to minor league baseball because of the ['94] strike," Milovich said.

With fans' frustration on the rise, major league baseball may not be able to afford another strike. It is times such as these that we can be thankful for the minor leagues.

richesson@vindy.com




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