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A tale of 2 franchises

It is too bad the Atlanta Braves and Montreal Expos are moving their spring training bases from the decrepit stadium they share here, because for years it has been the ultimate example of the game's economic disparity.

On one side are the Atlanta Braves, who do everything to maintain and restock a roster loaded with talented players. Across the field are the Montreal Expos, who produce immense talent each year and do anything but spend the money to keep it around.

Once again, that apparently will be the case this season. The Braves will contend and the outmanned Expos will come up short. But what more can you expect from a team that lost its top winner (Jeff Fassero), closer (Mel Rojas) and key slugger (Moises Alou)?

"It's tough," OF Rondell White said. "I think we'll be all right. We always lose a lot of great players and we always find a way to win. It's just that it's hard to compete with the teams with the big salaries like Atlanta and Florida."

White, 25, went against the flow of stars leaving Montreal by signing a five-year contract last spring, giving him the opportunity to take care of his parents. "I'd love to finish my career in Montreal," he said.

But he realizes he could do so without having a legitimate chance to win. "We would go to the World Series if we kept everybody," White said. "But we can't do that."

MORE EXPOS: Alou didn't just leave behind the team he had been with six years when he signed with the Marlins. He also parted company with his father, Felipe, who had managed him since 1992.

"I'm sad to leave my dad, like every son would be," Moises Alou said. "It's hard to play for your dad in Little League, in high school, in college, in the minor leagues. I played for my dad in the major leagues. It's unique. It doesn't happen very often. I did it. I enjoyed it. I had to move on. It was the greatest time of my career."

NUMBERS CRUNCHER: Turns out the real power in the Red Sox's front office is a 52-year-old employee of the New York City Bureau of Water Supply who is a self-taught computer programer and Rotisserie League fanatic. Mike Gimbel, who devised a statistical formula to rate players, has been on the Sox's payroll since 1994 and reportedly is consulted by GM Dan Duquette on every potential transaction. Some called him Duquette's right-hand man. "He's a math wizard," Duquette said. "This is a hobby of his, a passion for him. He gives us a very thorough, complete part of the evaluation process. He's a very interesting guy."

ONE-TOOL PLAYER: INF Russ Johnson couldn't win a job with the Astros this spring, but he certainly made himself handy. When the team bus broke down in Plant City last weekend, Johnson pulled out a screwdriver, diagnosed the problem as a dislodged fan belt and got the engine running. "Just growing up in the country, I worked on farm equipment, and you learn about this stuff," Johnson said.

SAY REY: The Mets are looking for more _ and less _ from flashy SS Rey Ordonez, who made 27 errors as a rookie last season. "We're hoping he learns that sometimes the best play is no play," assistant GM Steve Phillips said.

TOUGH ACT: San Francisco's J.T. Snow says being beaned by Randy Johnson won't leave him timid. "I'm not afraid," Snow said. "I think the best thing to do is get back in there and continue where you left off. I've just looked at it as part of the game. Anything can happen in this game. You can't go back up there scared or intimidated or having any fear."

NOVEL IDEA: The geniuses at Disney are doing away with the cheerleaders and brass bands on the dugout roofs at Angels games. "From what our fans tell us, they prefer to watch the baseball game," spokesman Bill Robertson said. Imagine that.

TAXI DRIVER: How bad was the atmosphere around the Astros last season? "We had 30 cabs for 25 players," former reliever Todd Jones said. "Five extra so you can jump from one to another and not be followed."

THE WANDERER: Pitcher Joey Eischen arrived in Plant City and said he feels like his name is "Hey, New Guy." First signed by Texas, Eischen has bounced to Montreal, Los Angeles, Detroit, San Diego and now Cincinnati. "I'd like to say I'm tired of moving around, that I'd like to find a home," he said. "But I won't. I'm just lucky to be in the big leagues. I'm a camaraderie guy and I like to make friends and be part of a team. I've made a lot of friends, but I haven't been able to stay in one place."

TEXAS IN THE SPRING: The Astros and Rangers are pursuing a plan to relocate their spring training camps to the Brownsville area and say the Royals and Reds have expressed interest in joining them. Meanwhile, the Astros extended their lease in Kissimmee through 2000.

A FUTURE RAY?: Career saves leader Lee Smith, 39, won't be the Expos' closer but he wants to keep pitching, hoping to get from 473 to 500 saves. "I'd like to stay and play for this team, and with expansion coming next year, you never know what will happen," Smith said. "Heck, this might be the best spring I've had in a while. I'm glad Felipe Alou started to get me in earlier in games. I'd rather face guys named Ripken than some kid wearing number 86. You've got to watch those Florida State League rookies of the year at my age."

EVEN STEVEN: The Rangers and Blue Jays agreed Monday on the player to be named in the trade of OF Lonell Roberts. Toronto received Lonell Roberts. A condition of the deal was that Roberts would revert to the Blue Jays if the teams could not agree on a player.

OUCH: The injury situation has been getting out of hand at the Angels' camp. "We need somebody to stand up," manager Terry Collins said. "If anybody can."

HE SAID IT: Rockies pitching coach Frank Funk on disappointing right-hander Bryan Rekar, who was sent to the minors: "He has a million-dollar bank account but doesn't know how to fill out the check."

MISCELLANY: San Diego's Ken Caminiti looks like he will be ready by Opening Day, much ahead of the July return predicted by doctors after his off-season shoulder surgery. The Reds may release disappointing OF Ruben Sierra. LHP Terry Mulholland will be the Cubs' Opening Day starter. The Pirates appear willing to offer 39-year-old LHP Steve Trout a spot at Triple A.

_ Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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