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Friday, June 9
Rocker expected to pitch Friday

MAUMEE, Ohio -- John Rocker decided to show the Atlanta Braves he's ready to work on his control.

John Rocker

After waiting two days to report to his minor league assignment, Rocker arrived Thursday for the Richmond Braves' game with the Toledo Mud Hens.

He didn't pitch in Richmond's 10-4 loss but did spend 20 minutes throwing in the bullpen before the game, working on smoothing out his delivery. At times, he appeared frustrated with his command of pitches, muttering to himself. He is expected to pitch in Friday's game.

The reliever walked onto the field to a standing ovation and a few boos just before the first pitch. He then signed autographs for fans and a sheriff's deputy.

"I was shocked by how the fans love him," Richmond third baseman Wes Helms said. "I saw positive signs and comments in the stands. That right there is what the guy needs."

Chris Edwards, a fan from Bowling Green, couldn't believe there were cheers. "This is pathetic," he said. "That's the last reaction I would suspect."

In the late innings, when it became evident Rocker would not pitch, some fans booed and others left. The game drew a crowd of 6,212, about 60 percent of capacity.

John Marshall, a young Braves fan, was able to get an autograph from Rocker. "He's my favorite player," Marshall said.

Besides working on his pitching, the Braves hope Rocker will work out his off-the-field problems. Assistant Atlanta general manager Frank Wren said some of the reliever's problems come from stress.

"Physically, he's throwing the ball better than ever," Wren said, "but this has taken a real toll on him."

Rocker entered the visitors' clubhouse through a side door, away from the media. None of his new teammates would answer questions as they went to batting practice, and club officials said Rocker wouldn't speak with reporters, either.

Arriving at the Toledo airport, Rocker got a taste of life in the minors, having to carry his own bag off the plane. But it was obvious he was not just another player going down to Triple-A.

He was met by Wren on the tarmac, signing a few autographs for passengers on his flight before being driven away to avoid reporters.

And he arrived at Ned Skeldon Stadium in this Toledo suburb in a rental car, instead of the team bus. When Rocker walked onto the field, several Toledo players taking batting practice stopped to watch.

Wren said he was not disappointed that Rocker waited until the last minute to report.

"Most players take their time when they're sent down," Wren said.

Rocker, who had 38 saves last season, was banished to the minor leagues Monday for control problems. He also was fined $5,000 for a confrontation before Sunday's home game with Sports Illustrated reporter Jeff Pearlman, who wrote a story in December featuring Rocker's remarks disparaging gays, minorities and foreigners.

Rocker had 10 saves in 11 opportunities and a 3.93 ERA this season, but had walked 25 batters in 18 1-3 innings.

Rocker had said Wednesday he was thinking about getting out of the game, returning to college and becoming a stockbroker. He stopped by Turner Field to pick up his gear, but took another day to get to Toledo.

Braves manager Bobby Cox, who didn't get a chance to speak with Rocker on Wednesday, played down Rocker's comments about quitting, saying he was just frustrated.

Security was tight in Toledo for Rocker's first appearance. Temporary fences kept fans away from a walkway both teams use to get to the field. Major league baseball security officials also were at the game, assisting with the crush of media members and fans.

Life certainly will be different for Rocker in the minors.

He'll be a lot closer to the fans in the smaller ballparks. Instead of lavish postgame spreads in the clubhouse, he can look forward to hot dogs and pizza. On the road, he'll be staying in Holiday Inns instead of Hiltons.

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Rocker might quit rather than report to Triple-A

 John Rocker arrives in Toledo.
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 Wes Helmes knows John Rocker is just one of the guys.
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 Randy Ingle says once Rocker put on his uniform he was fine.
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 Assistant GM Frank Wren enjoyed seeing Rocker get back to business.
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