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Down, Rays talk again

The Devil Rays have identified five managerial candidates who would fit comfortably in their dugout. Now the Rays want to establish which finalist would fit best in their community.

The second and presumably final round of interviews began Monday evening with Orioles hitting coach Rick Down talking with managing general partner Vince Naimoli for the first time.

Down said Monday's session began with several Rays officials, but he later met privately with Naimoli and general manager Chuck LaMar for a discussion that focused on community relations.

"The emphasis was not on what kind of baseball person you are _ we all already know the baseball end _ but how you would function as a spokesperson in the community," Down said. "Like it or not, we're in a position to be role models in baseball. And if you can be an influential or positive role model, I think you have to welcome that challenge these days."

Naimoli has been adamant that the Rays will be visible in the community and will project a positive image.

Down, runner-up to Terry Collins for the Angels job last year, said the idea of building an expansion team from the ground floor was "kind of mind-boggling."

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance. You're not inheriting anyone else's problems. This is you. It's your club," Down said. "You can make it a Rick Down-type club."

And what would a Rick Down-type club be like?

"You're not going to walk away from the ballpark thinking you didn't get your money's worth, I'll tell you that," Down said.

Three candidates will have their second interviews today: Marlins pitching coach Larry Rothschild, Indians scout Ted Simmons and Tigers bench coach Larry Parrish. The fifth finalist, Marlins bench coach Jerry Manuel, is due in Thursday. A decision is expected Friday or Saturday.

Simmons has never managed or even interviewed for a manager's job, so there was some surprise last week when he was announced as a candidate. But after a successful talk last week, both he and Rays officials seem to be warming to the idea.

"I was very excited and flattered when I was contacted last week and since my first-round interview was Friday and Saturday, it is still very fresh and very, very exciting," Simmons said Monday. "My enthusiasm is growing significantly and increasing daily. There's no question this is very exciting."

Cordero pleads guilty

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. _ Former Red Sox OF Wilfredo Cordero, who had insisted he was innocent of beating his wife, changed his plea to guilty one day before jury selection. He received a 90-day sentence, suspended for two years. He must get counseling for batterers.

Cordero and his wife, Ana, bought a home in his Puerto Rican hometown, Mayaguez, and are expecting their second child in April, his attorney said.

PHILLIPS PLEADS: Former Anaheim OF Tony Phillips pleaded guilty to misdemeanor cocaine possession and was ordered into a drug diversion program that could clear his record.

AVERY PICKS UP OPTION: Red Sox LHP Steve Avery, 6-7 with a 6.42 ERA, exercised the $3.9-million option he earned by making his 18th start in the final week.

FREE AGENTS: Among the players filing were Cleveland LHP Paul Assenmacher, given a $50,000 buyout.

INDIANS: OF Manny Ramirez was found guilty of four minor traffic violations stemming from a stop Aug. 13 in Cleveland.

REDS: Russ Nixon, who managed Cincinnati in 1982-83, returned to the organization as a catching instructor and rookie-league manager.

ROCKIES: Colorado will announce a one-year extension for manager Don Baylor today. His current contract runs through 1999.

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