The Olympics may turn out to be a big event for the Devil Rays.
Latin American scouting coordinator Rudy Santin and other team scouts will be in Atlanta watching the eight-team baseball tournament with an eye on some of the top international players, especially members of the Cuban team.
"We've followed the Cuban team for the last two weeks and we'll continue to evaluate their ability in case of defection," GM Chuck LaMar said. "They've already had one pitcher defect, with rumors of more to come. We wanted to have updated scouting opinions on that team."
Overall, the Rays are eager for the Olympic opportunity. While they scouted the U.S. players during their college season, this will be a chance to see all the players competing at a high level.
"For an organization just starting its international program, it gives us a chance to see the other predominant countries that are at the Olympics, such as Japan, Korea and Australia," LaMar said.
Top prospects from those countries, however, can be difficult to sign. The Rays probably would be most interested in a Cuban defector who wouldn't mind spending a year or two in the minor leagues.
LaMar is planning to attend the final days of the baseball competition. "Mostly we'll be there to pull for the USA to win the gold medal and to cover the other teams," he said.
WELCOME MAT: The Take Me Out to the Rays Game program begins Monday. Each week the team willbus children from a city recreation center to a Gulf Coast League game and give them lunch and a souvenir. The first group will come from Childs Park in St. Petersburg. Rays players will visit All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg on Aug. 4 and St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa on Aug. 12. Players, coaches and community development director Orestes Destrade will hold a clinic July 28 at the Belmont Heights Little League in Tampa.
OFFICIAL BUSINESS: The Rays are exploring opportunities for a team in the advanced rookie-level Appalachian League, specifically in Greenville, Tenn. If that doesn't work out, the Rays could renew their affiliation with Butte, Mont., in the Pioneer League. The Rays also plan to have one or two full-season Class A teams in 1997, with the South Atlantic League and the Florida State League among the possibilities. Tampa Bay and Durham, N.C., officials are sending updated information to the Triple-A expansion committee, which will rule on their joint bid for a team.
HOO RAYS: Team officials are hoping to reopen the renovated ThunderDome in time to make an event out of the mid-November 1997 expansion draft. Work begins this October. The first of more than a dozen renovation bid packages are due back this week. Paul Wilder was named designated hitter on the All-American team selected by the National High School Baseball Coaches Association. Destrade is scouting some Japanese League all-star games.
_ MARC TOPKIN