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As the wait grows longer, patience runs short

On the day Tampa Bay investors offered to buy the San Francisco Giants, baseball fan Donna Bear gave birth to an 8-pound, 11-ounce girl she named Kira.

Mrs. Bear figured that someday she could tell her daughter about the significance of her Aug. 6 birthday, her special tie to St. Petersburg's own major-league team.

But now 2-month-old Kira weighs more than 12 pounds, and Mrs. Bear is wondering if her daughter will be learning to drive before the Giants play their first home game in the Florida Suncoast Dome.

Mrs. Bear, who has had season tickets on reserve since 1989, said she is not discouraged by the long, long wait for baseball.

"I've got a lot of confidence," she said Friday. "I think they'll come through."

The question is when? Every day brings news of further delays, and throughout Tampa Bay the sense of frustration is growing faster than little Kira.

At the Keystone Club, a restaurant in downtown St. Petersburg, owner Paul Avey was so enthusiastic about the Giants coming to town he hung out a banner that said, "We're Major League Fans."

Over the past month, Avey said, the banner has come down and gone back up again, "depending on how mad I get. I'm going to be patient for another week or so, and then I'm going to blow up."

First the Giants are coming. Then they're not. Then they are. Tampa Bay baseball fans feel like they're on the business end of a yo-yo, with somebody else pulling the string.

"It's a pain in the drain to have to continue to wait," Cecil Englebert said.

Englebert should know. A former mayor of Dunedin who serves on the Pinellas Sports Authority, he has been working to bring baseball to Pinellas for 15 years.

"I've been waiting for a team since 1977," he said, "so another few days is not going to be that bad."

Not everybody has his tolerance for a game that has gone deep into extra innings. Englebert said his friends and business associates are particularly upset about the investors who want to keep the Giants in San Francisco.

As for National League president Bill White, who keeps giving the San Francisco group more time to put its bid together, "They say, "Who the hell does he think he is?' "

The thought of giving up on the Giants is tempting, Englebert said. But that would mean facing the prospect of that expensive dome sitting empty until another team becomes available _ if another team ever does.

"As much as we would like to say "The hell with it,' I don't think we will," Englebert said. "I don't think we can afford to lose patience."

But fans may be losing their enthusiasm as the negotiations drag on.

When word first got out St. Petersburg might land a team at last, customers flocked to the Touchdown Sports Store in Tyrone Square Mall looking for Giants shirts. Owner Kathleen Dalton thought she had plenty of them, priced at $13.95 each. But her stock sold out fast, and people were clamoring for more.

"I did $600 worth in one hour," she said. "It was fantastic."

Now the demand for Giants wear has slowed to a mere two or three shirts a day, she said.

At the Howard Johnson Hotel on 34th Street in St. Petersburg, the sales staff has been plotting its marketing strategy to attract customers from Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati _ all the cities with National League teams that would play the Giants at the Dome.

But until the sale to the Tampa Bay group is approved, sales director Kathleen Knight said, all of those marketing plans are on hold.

"It's been crazy," she said. "We're all in limbo."

Mark Ferguson is well-acquainted with limbo. In March, he bought an old gas station a short walk from the Dome and set to work turning it into Ferg's Sports Bar. The kitchen and bar are done, and the satellite dish for the big-screen TV is up. He hopes to open for business in a couple of weeks.

If the Giants become his neighbors, Ferguson will look like a brilliant entrepreneur. If they don't, "it means we have to work a lot harder," he said.

Ferguson said he tries not to think about the Giants. He tries to focus on what he can control, like getting his business open.

But when he turns on his TV and sees more bad news from San Francisco, it all makes him feel like he's on the longest roller coaster ride in the world. "Mentally, I'm stressed out," Ferguson said. "I'm tired of it. It should've been over two weeks ago."