- The Washington Times - Monday, August 26, 2002

SAN DIEGO On days when the San Diego Padres play, few people are at the ballpark earlier than Frank and Barbara Glenski. The retirees pull into a prime parking spot close to the stadium, then settle into lawn chairs and spend the next several hours waving to arriving fans and players.
"Padres Baseball is Life," reads a sign the Glenskis hang on their van. Barbara, 76, has a tattoo of the Padres' "Swinging Friar" mascot on her right ankle and a tattoo of a bat and a glove on her left ankle.
And guess what? As much as they would miss their beloved Padres, they're in favor of the players going on strike if it would help make baseball more competitive.
"Absolutely! It's not fun watching the same teams year after year, because they can buy all their players," said Barbara Glenski, referring to the postseason that always seems to include big spenders like the New York Yankees and Atlanta Braves.
Across the country, many other fans feel the same way, especially in cities where getting to the World Series is a pipe dream. Many of those fans say they would come back following a work stoppage, but only if the new collective bargaining agreement changed baseball's economics and gave the have-nots a fighting chance against the haves.
"There's about five teams that can buy their players," Barbara Glenski said. "Like these guys."
She's pointing at the field, in the direction of the Braves, who lost two of three to the Padres last week but still left town with baseball's best record and a huge lead in the NL East.
Just four years ago, the Padres put together a team good enough to beat the Braves for the NL pennant; the Glenskis still fly a replica of the title flag from their van. But then it was right back to life as a so-called small-market team, one that doesn't have a huge local TV contract or other revenue to keep up with the richer teams.
Within weeks of being swept by the dreaded Yankees in the 1998 World Series and winning a public vote for a new downtown ballpark the Padres began dumping their well-paid stars.
San Diego has kept its payroll in the $40 million range and hasn't had a winning season since. Entering yesterday's games, the Padres were 27 games behind the defending World Series champions, the Arizona Diamondbacks, who are outspending the Padres by $60 million on salaries.
Fans in other cities feel the same way. Problem is, there's not much optimism out there.
"You take the Brewers. They can't afford the expensive players that some of the other teams can," said Floyd Hunter, 69, of Milwaukee. "If a strike helps them, that's great, but I don't see it happening."
Paul Wong, a Brewers season ticket holder who owns a restaurant and bar not far from the ballpark, said owners can't give in if they expect to achieve competitive balance.
"It just got so out of whack in the players' advantage. It should be brought more into line with the NFL and NBA," Wong said. He noted how the players were taken advantage of by owners before the days of free agency, "but now it's shifted way to the other side."
Matthew Lenaghan of Ossining, N.Y., who recently attended an Indians game at Jacobs Field in Cleveland, wonders how far a luxury tax and revenue sharing would go to help poorer clubs.
"Parity would be nice, but I don't think the Yankees are going to share cable contracts with the Twins or the Royals," he said.
The Yankees, who won four out of five World Series before Arizona beat them in seven games last year, had the highest Opening Day payroll in the majors at $126 million.
Not all small-market teams are hurting. The Minnesota Twins got a court order to stave off contraction and, with an Opening Day payroll of $40 million, were leading the AL Central by 17 games entering yesterday.
Still, Twins fan Tim Boelter, of Algonquin, Ill., is nervous.
"They're on the bubble right now," Boelter said before a recent Twins-White Sox game at Comiskey Park. "I'd be unhappy if they don't make it. And if it is because of big-money teams driving out small-market teams, I would hope that they come up with a way so small-market teams can compete, like it is in football."
Back in San Diego, there's frustration.
"I feel like we're used as almost a farm system for the Yankees," said Robin D. Hollenbeck, a retired Coast Guardsman.
His point: At the 2001 trading deadline, the Padres dealt left-hander Sterling Hitchcock, the MVP of the 1998 NL Championship Series, to the Yankees for two minor leaguers, including Brett Jodie. On Jan. 4, the Yankees claimed Jodie off waivers from the Padres.
Longtime Padres fan Harry Maker isn't taking sides. That would mean one side is right and the other is wrong, he said.
He says he's addicted to baseball and would come back after a strike. But he's frustrated at hearing how the Padres are building for the future, knowing that the cost of his outfield seat will double by 2004.
"The future is a dream that may or may not come about," he said. "What about winning games this year? If we don't start winning now, why would the fans want to come back to the new ballpark?"

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