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Fehr says talks are getting serious

The tenor of the baseball labor negotiations took a slight turn for the better Friday. Union chief Donald Fehr said that for the first time the owners appeared to be seriously negotiating toward an agreement, and management said the talks had reached an "important juncture." Meanwhile, the second day of the lockout took some players back in time. Back to high school and Little League, when they practiced on dirt fields, chased balls over the fences, and played catch in the street.

There was little activity at the team complexes around the Tampa Bay area. Unlike Thursday, when there were unauthorized workouts at several facilities, players apparently stayed away from the camps.

Owners' spokesman Richard Levin said he was aware of no exceptions to the lockout order on Friday.

Following four hours of negotiating in New York, Fehr said: "The

discussions have been focusing quite precisely on the issues that divide us. They are serious discussions. Important questions are being asked. We feel for the first time that the clubs are serious about trying to reach an agreement. I did not believe that before."

Charles O'Connor, the owners' lead negotiator, said, "I think we're at an important juncture. We ought to know by the end of the (next) week where we are on this."

Commissioner Fay Vincent, who said Thursday he was "extremely

pessimistic," on Friday said he was "very worried that we are not heading toward something that will be acceptable to both parties."

"Maybe it's a matter of perspective in terms of what you're looking for or what you see," said Fehr.

The 23rd session between the two sides was spent discussing the latest proposal by commissioner Fay Vincent, which calls for minimum salaries for players in their first three years, a 75 percent cap in arbitration increases and a settlement of the three collusion cases.

Negotiations will resume Monday.

"It is important to take a step back, do some more internal work and try to see where this leads," said Fehr.

While the negotiating teams met in New York, some players did work out Friday. A half-dozen players who had been working out at the St. Louis Cardinals' Busch Complex took their bats, balls and gloves to the nearby Northwest Community Center on Friday morning.

"Ah, softball fields and 45-foot mounds. These are the comforts of a major-league lockout," said John Morris, a Cardinals outfielder who was taking batting practice on a field with 180-foot fences.

"A skin field!" Kansas City pitcher Terry Leach said of the all-dirt infield. "I haven't been on one of these since high school."

Toronto pitchers John Cerutti and Jimmy Key played catch in the street in front of Cerutti's Palm Harbor house.

One of baseball's security monitors stopped by the Busch Complex about 8:45 a.m., walked through the complex then got back in his pickup truck and drove away. Most other complexes received similar visits. "They're just there to see what's going on," Levin said.

Meanwhile, preparations for baseball are continuing at most area

facilities.

"City workers are still putting finishing touches on the field.

The Pirate City staffers are preparing offices, phone lines and rooms.

There's still administrative duties," said Dave Trembley, Pittsburgh's director of Bradenton operations. "There was just no baseball here today. It's certainly different."

"There was no activity whatsoever on the fields," said Jim Hoff,

Cincinnati's minor-league field coordinator based in Plant City. "We were supposed to have meetings today. Your clock tells you some things were supposed to happen, but they weren't."

Hoff said the day wasn't a waste. With no major-leaguers around, he and his staff were able to spend time unpacking equipment for the minor-league players, who will report as scheduled early next month. "We had all this pent-up energy. We got a lot accomplished inside," he said.

There was a lock on the batting cage Friday at Clearwater's Jack Russell Stadium, where Philadelphia Phillies players worked out Thursday in violation of the lockout mandate. The biggest stir was caused by reporters.

"There was a lot of commotion this morning in anticipation of whether or not the players would come by. They did not show up," said John Timberlake, general manager of the Clearwater Phillies.

At Dunedin's Grant Field, the construction of the new stadium is in its final stages. The expansion increases seating capacity from 3,417 to 6,218. Toronto Blue Jays official Ken Carson said ticket sales to the exhibition games were continuing at a good pace despite the uncertainty caused by the lockout.

Fehr will come to Tampa on Sunday to speak at a meeting of the Associated Press Sports Editors. O'Connor was also invited but will not make the trip, instead planning staff meetings. He may address the group by phone.

There was one official session Friday. The Los Angeles Dodgers

traditionally hold early workouts for their minor-league players, and 57 showed up at Vero Beach to run, throw and hit.

- Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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