Rocker makes appearance at Miami charity event
Posted: Saturday January 15, 2000 07:58 PM
John Rocker got a warm reception from a few autograph-seeking fans at Dennis Martinez's annual charity game in Miami. AP
CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) -- Standing all alone in left field, John Rocker heard it from every direction.
Shunned by some of his teammates, the Atlanta Braves reliever received a mix of boos and cheers Saturday in his first public appearance since making inflammatory comments towards minorities, homosexuals and foreigners.
Rocker, playing in Dennis Martinez's second annual charity baseball game at the University of Miami, signed autographs for fans. Later, he stood by himself during warmups.
"He spoke bad of everybody except for white people and that's not right," New York Mets shortstop Rey Ordonez said. "I know this is a free country, but immigrants should be respected."
The charity teams -- which included baseball stars Alex Fernandez, Andres Galarraga, Livan Hernandez, Alex Rodriguez and Ivan Rodriguez as well as several others and many Hispanic celebrities -- were split into two squads: the black team and the white team.
Rocker was on the black team.
"This is great," Rocker said before the game. "It's been like this everywhere I've gone. Miami is one of my favorite towns. I come down here a lot. I hope people don't believe everything they read in the media. The community down here are true baseball fans and I enjoy being a part of all this."
Rocker's appearance was another step in an attempt to redeem his image after his comments in the December issue of Sports Illustrated.
"One of the biggest reasons we came here was to boo this guy," said Jose Pichardo, 24, a student at Miami-Dade Community College. "He has to understand that most of us in this country are immigrants. Baseball has to do something. He should be suspended at least one year for what he said."
Rocker issued a brief written apology following his remarks, then dropped out of sight until his interview Wednesday with ESPN in Rocker's hometown of Macon, Ga. Rocker met the next day with home-run king Hank Aaron and former U.N. ambassador Andrew Young.
Not all fans were willing to forgive and forget.
"He's horrible," said Kenyatta Walker, an offensive tackle at the University of Florida. "I couldn't even watch his apology on ESPN. It was a joke. I think he made his own bed. He's a racist. He deserves everything he gets.
"It's real sad that there's that much hate in anybody. He'll be trying to prove he's not a racist for the rest of his life," he said.
Other fans were not so harsh.
"I don't agree with what he said, but I respect his right to say it," said Eddie Rodriguez, 44, the director of sports at the Hank Kline Boys Club in Miami. "I also don't think he should be suspended although he definitely should get a reprimand from the commissioner. Athletes have done worse things."
Braves shortstop Ozzie Guillen said Rocker needed support during these difficult times.
"You have to give him a lot of credit for showing up here in Miami, where he could have been in a very hostile situation," Guillen said. "He's going to have to carry this cross the rest of his life."
In his first at-bat, Rocker was greeted with a chorus of boos before popping out to second base. The following inning, dozens of fans -- mostly children -- clamored along a fence near the dugout for his autograph.
Rocker told SI he would never play for a New York team because he didn't want to ride a train "next to some queer with AIDS." He also said, "I'm not a very big fan of foreigners. ... How the hell did they get in this country?" He called a teammate a "fat monkey," mocked the driving skills of Asian women and insulted single mothers.
"Someone who's in the public eye should not talk like that," said Jose Gomez, 26, an account executive from Miami. "He owes an apology to his teammates, but a lot of athletes do wrong things when they're young. He definitely shouldn't be suspended, and for this mistake he shouldn't be branded. Latrell Sprewell chocked his coach and he's accepted again."
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