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Futuristic fashion gets poor reviews

The Devil Rays have seen the future. And they don't particularly like it.

Players and staff had little _ or little good, anyway _ to say about the futuristic uniforms they will wear for tonight's game, which is part of a baseball-wide promotion sponsored by Century 21.

The Turn Ahead the Clock uniforms feature a new cap with a purple bill and black piping and jerseys that are 100 percent polyester with a large Rays logo on the front, short angled purple sleeves, and vertical names on the back. "Weird," equipment manager Carlos Ledezma said.

"They look like they're cheaply done," reliever Rick White said. "They feel like a tarp cover or something. They're too shiny, and they've got a silky appearance. They look like something my wife would wear to bed.

"The only thing I like about them is the back. The way the names are, it's harder for the fans to see who you are."

Manager Larry Rothschild says he knows the teams have to do whatever is good for the game and attracts fans, but said, "I guess I'm old-fashioned; I'd like to think you can bring baseball fans to the park because of the game and the way you play it."

Plus, he said, "I think my kids have better taste than what I'm seeing in these uniforms."

Players were concerned not only about the look, but the practical applications since the uniforms seem to be thicker and warmer than what they usually wear.

"They don't really look that bad; not as bad as I thought they would," C John Flaherty said. "But I'm concerned about the material. It seems to be a little heavy for the Kansas City heat."

The uniforms won't be the only thing new tonight. There will be special music, scoreboard graphics and even special names for the positions _ shortstop will be "intermediate station" and leftfield "left sector."

LONG STOP?: Tony Graffanino started at shortstop Friday, the first move in what may be a chance for him to prove his worth as a utility player. "I guess they want to see if there are other things I can do besides play second," he said. Rothschild said the Rays indeed do want to see what Graffanino can do, but also said that they aren't losing anything by playing him there. "I need to find out what his value is and, also, he's swung the bat well and he gives me as good a chance to win a game as anyone out there," Rothschild said. Graffanino was signed by the Braves as a shortstop but was switched to second base in 1991 because they had a shortstop prospect named Chipper Jones ahead of him.

CANSECO REPORT: DH Jose Canseco continues to show improvement in his comeback from July 11 back surgery, taking batting practice in St. Petersburg, but a big test will come Monday when he runs for the first time. "The next step is making sure he's all right when he runs," Rothschild said. Canseco says he hopes to play Friday.

GET A GRIP: The Rays have had fundamental problems lately, drawing Rothschild's ire. Three times in two nights, they messed up routine plays when pitchers weren't able to cover first and catch a toss from 1B Paul Sorrento. Rothschild said there are no excuses for such play, but that the change from Fred McGriff to Sorrento is a factor. "It's really nobody's fault, but Freddie has been our first baseman for a year and a half here. Paul's done a fine job and it's not his fault, but it's a different look. He's going to feed the ball differently than Fred. There's no excuse. It's a matter of the pitcher getting there and being there and catching the ball and stepping on the base."

MINOR MATTERS: Orlando LHP Cedrick Bowers was named Southern League pitcher of the week for a seven-inning, 12-strikeout performance Tuesday against Jacksonville. Bryan Rekar returned to the Durham rotation with a win Wednesday, allowing five runs in five innings. RHP Brendan Donnelly was released from Durham.

_ MARC TOPKIN

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