Talk of the Town - Take me out July 15 2000

Baseball's past and present collide in Atlanta

The sport once known as "America's pastime" now struggles to win viewers against snowboarding and "Antiques Roadshow" reruns. And the national press has once again been asking a familiar question: Could baseball be on the decline? What better time to examine the game's past and future than All-Star week in Atlanta? And what better place to start my investigation than in the lobby of the Atlanta Hilton, where two powerful-looking, 60-something Latino men are arguing over a stack of free T-shirts?

These weren't just any middle-aged Latinos: They were Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda and one-time Braves batting champ Rico Carty. Eventually, Cepeda managed to negotiate the release of the entire stack of shirts, which was given him by Major League Baseball. But as he scurried off to put them in his room Carty waged a war of public relations, arguing that Cepeda had borrowed hundreds of shirts from him during the late '60s and early '70s, when both were Braves.

Though Carty retired in 1979, he's in great shape at 60, with forearms bulging and a powerful physique. He stays in shape playing on a traveling team of ex-major leaguers that includes Pedro Guerrero, Mariano Duncan and Joaquin Andujar.

"We bring some heat, man," he says of the team, which is based out of Carty's hometown of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

"I love baseball. It's like a fever," says the player known during his playing days here as the "Beeg Boy" because of the way he pronounced his own nickname. "I started playing ball at 9 years old. My father was a boxer, and he wanted me to box. My mother was a midwife, and she wanted me to be a doctor. So, I play baseball."

Eventually, Cepeda returned, sporting a Panama hat and one of his new shirts, probably just to spite Carty. And the two hobbled off together, bickering, the way only the best of friends can.

While baseball's past was out and about during the daylight, baseball's future got its groove on after dark. Hours after Sammy Sosa lit up Turner Field during the Home Run Derby, the party got cranking downtown at Karma.

Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter was the first to arrive, sometime just past midnight. He was immediately swarmed by women, many of whom had just departed the Ricky Martin concert across the street at Philips Arena.

"I've been here when we've played the Braves before," he said, "but also, my sister goes to school here, so I visit her every once in a while."

Jeter was soon greeted by Braves center fielder Andruw Jones, who was escorted by two buxom blondes. (Apparently, Jones's spectacular catches aren't limited to the playing field). While Jones concerned himself with his lady friends, Braves pitcher Kevin Millwood did a little dance to entertain a group of friends clad in golf shirts and pleated Dockers.

A little after 1 a.m., Seattle Mariners shortstop Alex Rodriguez stumbled in, the effects of a concussion he sustained last weekend still visible in his glassy-eyed countenance. A-Rod's PR rep led him to the back of the club, where he chatted with Jeter while making eyes at a woman named Molly, who said she was a paralegal.

By 2:30, the club began clearing out, despite rumors of a later appearance by Ricky Martin. When I exited, A-Rod and Jeter were still at the bar — two of the best shortstops in a generation chatting quietly, like old friends — but not quite old enough to bicker yet.

What's up, Atlanta? Hit me up at 404-688-5623 x.1502 or lang@creativeloafing.com.

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