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Naimoli rates candidates highly

Managing general partner Vince Naimoli said he has been very impressed with what he has heard during interviews with GM candidates Al Goldis, Chuck LaMar and Frank Wren. "They've come in with their plans for the next three years and with their expectations for the first few seasons," Naimoli said. "It's been very exciting."

Houston scouting director Dan O'Brien Jr. is expected to interview by Thursday. Naimoli said he probably then will cut the field to two and conduct follow-up discussions. Wren and LaMar are considered the leading candidates. A final announcement is expected within a week or two after the July 11 All-Star game.

"Our top two are both qualified to be general managers, and I'm sure both will be within a year or so," Naimoli said. "It's honestly going to be a tough choice."

Before Wren's interview, Sporting News

baseball correspondent Bob Nightengale wrote that Wren will get the job "barring a last-minute change of heart. Wren, 37, has all of the credentials to fall right in line to be the next great general manager coming out of the Expos' system."

Calling all Rays fans

Area fans are planning to form a Tampa Bay Devil Rays booster club. The first membership drive meeting is planned for 7 p.m. July 11, the night of the All-Star Game, at Ferg's Sports Bar & Grill (1320 Central Ave., St. Petersburg). Organizers say the club will benefit area youths, possibly through ticket giveaways and scholarships. For more information, call (813) 896-5025.

Money matters

Naimoli said the closing on the team's $60-million loan from First Union National Bank went "extremely well" and that the Rays on Monday will wire their initial payment of $32-million toward their $130-million franchise fee. The Devil Rays will end up paying about $85-million of the fee with equity and using about $45-million of borrowed money. The Arizona Diamondbacks have $107-million in equity and will borrow about $23-million. "The difference between here and Arizona is that there are many more public-minded citizens in Arizona who stepped up to be investors," Naimoli said. The Rays added four limited partners of $1-million each and may add a few more.

Hoo Rays

Naimoli said he has found "an outstanding candidate in terms of background, experience and credentials" to be vice president of sales and marketing and is in discussions with the man. A final deal is a few weeks away. There are new rumors the Chicago White Sox will move their spring camp from Sarasota to Tucson, Ariz., sharing a new facility with the Diamondbacks. That would give the Devil Rays another possible site. The Rays also are interested in Disney World's new facility.

_ MARC TOPKIN

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