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Justice isn't looking for retribution

He had pulled an Indians uniform over his head for the first time less than an hour before. Now David Justice was standing near a batting cage when a fan called from behind.

"David, we're going to miss you in Atlanta, man."

Justice smiled, but did not turn around.

For Justice, there is no reason to look back.

At 30, the former Braves All-Star is in the first days of a second career. Traded to Cleveland along with Marquis Grissom for Kenny Lofton and Alan Embree on Tuesday, Justice made his Indians debut against Detroit on Wednesday night.

This is the player Atlanta built a lineup around at the start of the '90s, a decade that would belong to the Braves. A Rookie of the Year award, two All-Star Game appearances, and four World Series berths later, the Braves decided he was expendable.

If Justice is bitter over the turn of events, he hides it well. If he is going to mope about the harsh business baseball has become, it will not be anytime soon.

"I don't feel betrayed at all. I understand the business end of the game," Justice said Wednesday evening. "I was just surprised because I didn't think it would happen this late. I feel a little sad leaving some friends behind, but now I understand it's time to turn around and play."

This is why Justice can afford to be philosophical _ because now he can play while leaving his baggage in Atlanta.

Production had come second to intrigue the last two seasons with the Braves. Would Justice ever be healthy? Would he be replaced by phenoms Andruw Jones and Jermaine Dye? Was he worth the $6-million salary he was pulling down?

On Wednesday, it was like seeing the Justice of old. The smile and uniform colors looked the same, only the outlook had changed. It was, he said, a little like being a rookie again. And he spoke with the understated confidence of a rookie.

"The only thing I'm hoping for is to play as many games as I can," said Justice, who will switch from rightfield to leftfield in Cleveland. "If I get my at-bats, I'm going to produce. That's whether I'm an Indian or a Brave, it doesn't matter."

Production was not a problem in Atlanta. Staying in the lineup was another matter.

He has spent seven seasons in the majors, yet has played more than 150 games only once. There were stints on the disabled list in '91 and '92. The strike in '94. More injuries in '95 and '96.

In 1993, his only complete season, Justice hit 40 homers and drove in 120 runs.

The most recent injury also happened to be the most damaging. While swinging a bat in May, Justice separated his shoulder. He missed more than 100 games and the Braves repeated as National League champions without him.

If he looked overpriced and expendable in Atlanta, he looked like a steal to the Indians.

"We've checked all the medical records. We've scouted him almost every day this spring. We've seen no indication that he's not healthy," Indians general manager John Hart said. "There's no question that David Justice will have the eye of the tiger.

"There is no indication he isn't healthy. It's just the opposite. He looks better than he did before the injury."

He certainly looked good Wednesday. During batting practice he ripped line drives around the park, leading to mock displays of terror.

"You trying to kill our first baseman," Kevin Seitzer shouted from behind the batting cage.

In his first at-bat of the evening, Justice had the bases full and a 3-and-1 count. He swung so hard at the next pitch, he landed on his rump in the batter's box. Laughing it off, Justice eventually lined a single to leftfield to drive in Cleveland's first two runs.

It was the kind of performance fans have grown accustomed to seeing from an Indians leftfielder. Albert Belle averaged 123 RBI from 1992 to 1996 before leaving for the White Sox.

Justice, who once upon a time replaced Dale Murphy in Atlanta, was given the choice of wearing Belle's No. 8 jersey. He opted for No. 33.

But like it or not for the Indians, it's Justice in place of Belle. With no looking back.