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Tigers tell Strawberry: take a walk

Darryl Strawberry isn't getting any help from the Detroit Tigers in his bid to make it back to the majors.

Strawberry was walked intentionally each time he came to the plate _ five in all _ in Friday's game between the New York Yankees' and Tigers' teams in the rookie Gulf Coast League.

Detroit general manager Joe Klein admitted he gave the order to walk Strawberry each time he batted. He contends Strawberry, an eight-time NL All-Star now on a rehabilitation assignment with the Yankees, should not be playing in a league where some opponents are only 17 years old.

"I guess I'm guilty," Klein said. "I hope the next time we face him, he walks five times again.

"He's not going to hurt any of my players, especially any of our pitchers, with a line drive through the middle."

Klein said he thought Strawberry should at least be in the more advanced Class A Florida State League, playing for the Yankees' Tampa team, instead of in a league meant for players who have just turned professional.

"Quite frankly, I don't think he should be here," Gulf Coast League president Tom Saffell said.

"It's nothing against Strawberry. It's just that I don't think major-leaguers should be rehabbing in this league," he said.

Strawberry was moved to the leadoff spot after Yankees manager Hector Lopez learned from Tigers manager Kevin Bradshaw of the team's approach. Players in the Tigers dugout were heard whispering that any pitcher who did not walk Strawberry faced a $1,000 fine.

Klein laughed off suggestions about the fine, however, saying, "They only make $850 a month."

Strawberry, 33, is 3-for-12 in four games since launching his comeback after a 60-day suspension for cocaine use.

1996 season to begin March 31 in Kingdome

NEW YORK _ The season will begin in March next year, the earliest start ever.

The season will start March 31, a Sunday night, with the Chicago White Sox playing the Seattle Mariners in the Kingdome, a game to be telecast by ESPN. Most other teams will start play the next day.

Officials moved the start up a week to avoid playing World Series games in November. If the season began April 7, Game 7 of the World Series would have been scheduled for Nov. 3. A March 31 start allows the seventh game to be scheduled for Oct. 27.

When owners adopted an extra round of playoffs, they added one week to the season. The regular season lasts 26 weeks and the post-season now lasts four weeks.

Roberts leads U.S. team

NASHVILLE, Tenn. _ USF star Mark Roberts allowed one hit and struck out five as the United States beat Canada 4-0 in an exhibition game called because of rain after five innings.

Roberts (2-0) allowed a single and a walk in his five-inning stint. Just one of the 15 batters he faced advanced as far as second base.

Royals: Ewing Kauffman's plan to keep the team in Kansas City moved forward when the team was signed over to a charitable organization. If local ownership is not found within six years, the group will sell to the highest bidder without regard to where the team goes.

Rockies: Colorado reached a contract agreement with first-round draft pick Todd Helton, the college player of the year at Tennessee.

Marlins: Nate Rolison, Florida's second-round pick in the 1995 amateur draft, signed.

Key update: Yankees ace Jimmy Key, already on the disabled list with an injury to his left shoulder, failed to complete a pitching session in Tampa for the second time in four days. He is sidelined with inflammation and rotator tendinitis in his shoulder. Dr. Stuart Hershon, the team's physician, and Dr. James Andrews, who performed arthroscopic surgery on Key in October, are expected to examine the left-hander again soon; more surgery is a strong possibility.