One way or another, Kenny Kelly appears intent on playing hardball.
The University of Miami quarterback has approached the Devil Rays about giving up football to concentrate full time on his fledging baseball career.
His overture coincides with a minor rift with Miami's coaching staff.
UM coach Butch Davis has suggested Kelly might want to give up baseball if he hopes to be the starting quarterback in 2000. Kelly has expressed disappointment about sharing playing time with freshman Ken Dorsey at the end of last season.
Devil Rays general manager Chuck LaMar acknowledged Thursday that Kelly contacted the club a couple of weeks ago to inquire about a contract that would make it worth his quitting football. Kelly, a second-round draft pick of the Rays out of Tampa Catholic in 1997, has played three abbreviated minor-league seasons during his summer breaks.
"We think he's a future major-league centerfielder," LaMar said. "He is one of the more talented players in our system, and the more he plays baseball, the better he is going to get."
Kelly was UM's starting quarterback in 1999 until being sidelined with an injury late in the season.
Dorsey started Miami's final three regular-season games and played well enough to earn playing time after Kelly returned. The pair shared duties in UM's Gator Bowl victory against Georgia Tech and are expected to compete for the starting job in the fall.
Kelly, who will be a fourth-year junior next season, denied that his flirtations with the Rays are in any way an ultimatum to the Hurricanes concerning his playing time.
He did not talk publicly about baseball until after a two-hour meeting with Davis on Monday.
"If (Tampa Bay's) offer is not good, I'll come back and play (football) another year," Kelly said.
Kelly was considered one of the nation's top prep baseball prospects coming out of Tampa Catholic, but he slipped to the second round in the draft because teams were wary about his interest in football.
In his original contract negotiations, Kelly told the Rays it would cost far more to sign him if he had to give up football. He eventually agreed on a reported $450,000 deal that allowed him to play both sports.
"With a dual-sport athlete, the worst thing you can do is just buy him out of one sport," LaMar said.
"We wanted to give him a chance to decide which sport he might better excel at and might have a greater future in. I think he's starting to think along those terms now."
Despite having barely 300 professional at-bats going into 1999, Kelly was moved up to Class A St. Petersburg of the Florida State League and hit .277 in 206 at-bats.
"Every minute that Kenny Kelly has been here, we've known that any given day the Tampa Bay Devil Rays can do what we could never do _ walk in and offer $6-million," Davis said. "If they offer him that kind of money, that's something we can't compete with."
LaMar would not discuss negotiations, and Kelly would not disclose how much money he wants.
"We're far apart right now," Kelly said.
Regardless of whether he signs a new deal, Kelly said he intends to play baseball this summer. Based on his success in St. Petersburg, Kelly could be moved to Double A Orlando.
_ Information from Times wires was used in this report.