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Marlins owner: Without park, team will fold

Florida Marlins owner John Henry said he believes Major League Baseball will dissolve his franchise after this season if all parts of a public financing plan for a new stadium are not approved.

Henry said he thinks baseball will eliminate teams that are not able to compete financially. Without plans for a 40,000-seat stadium firmly in place, the Marlins would be on that chopping block, he said.

"Without the state's help, I don't believe there will be a 2002 season for the Marlins," Henry told the Miami Herald in a Monday e-mail.

His comments came as the Miami-Dade County Commission prepared to vote Tuesday on whether to commit $118-million in hotel tax revenue toward building a $385-million stadium next to the Miami River. The commission voted 10-1 to approve the proposal.

The team now will try to get approval from the state for a $122-million tax rebate. Gov. Jeb Bush and House Speaker Tom Feeney have shown only tepid interest in the proposal, saying strong local backing is needed for the team to have any chance at getting state money.

Andrew Zimbalist, a professor at Smith College in Massachusetts who studies the economics of sports, said Henry's statement is "absurd." Henry is just trying to pressure government bodies into acceding to the team's demands, he said.

"This whole contraction talk is an attempt to gain political leverage," Zimbalist said. "Major League Baseball is not going to leave south Florida."

Baseball officials did not return calls for comment. A task force looking at the revenue disparities between rich teams such as the Yankees and poor ones such as the Expos last year recommended against dissolving franchises.

ANGELS: Outfielder Tim Salmon tested his sore abdominal muscle by getting about 10 at-bats during a simulated game, though he did not run the bases. Salmon might be ready to play this week.

ASTROS: Right-hander Shane Reynolds threw off a mound for the first time since a left knee operation in December. "Granted, it was the first day, but it felt natural, it felt easy," said Reynolds, who had thrown only off flat surfaces.

BREWERS: A piece of scaffolding at Miller Park fell, injuring an electrician in the latest accident at the team's new home. Workers were taking the scaffolding apart when a piece hit the electrician in the hip as he worked on the roof, stadium board spokesman Evan Zeppos said. The electrician, whose name was not released, was not seriously hurt. A crane collapsed at the stadium in July 1999, killing three workers and postponing the park's opening by a year. Paul Rigdon suffered a bruise when a line drive hit by Cubs shortstop Ricky Gutierrez struck the right-hander on the outside of his right knee. Preliminary X-rays showed no fracture, and Rigdon is scheduled to be examined by team doctor Angelo Mattalino this morning. President Bush will throw out the ceremonial first pitch at the new ballpark for the home opener against the Reds on April 6.

CARDINALS: Darryl Kile, who won 20 games last season, will be the opening-day starter April 2 in Denver against the Colorado Rockies, his former team. Kile has a 6.67 ERA at Coors, including the two seasons he pitched for the Rockies. But manager Tony La Russa said Kile is the leader of the staff, "and this is one of the assignments of being a leader."

D'BACKS: Outfielder Reggie Sanders strained his right hamstring while attempting a backhanded shoestring catch.

DODGERS: Third baseman Adrian Beltre ate solid food for the first time since early January as his aftercare from a second abdominal surgery continued. Beltre remains in Centinela Hospital Medical Center in Inglewood, but manager Jim Tracy said he's hopeful Beltre will be released this week.

MARINERS: Outfielder Ichiro Suzuki, the seven-time Japanese batting champion, hit his first home run of the spring, a two-run shot off Oakland's Erik Hiljus. Outfielder Jay Buhner, who hasn't played this spring because of a strained left arch, attempted to play in a minor-league game as a designated hitter but pulled up lame running to first in his first at-bat. The severity of the injury is unknown.

METS: Right-hander Eric Cammack is out with a bone spur near his elbow in his pitching arm. Centerfielder Jay Payton was hit in the left side with a pitch but stayed in the game. X-rays showed a bruised rib cage.

PADRES: The team tweaked its offer to outfielder Rickey Henderson, bumping his base pay by $50,000 to $300,000 if he makes the big-league club. Henderson, 42, accepted the minor-league deal Monday. The career stolen-base leader still must play his way onto the roster, and if he does, he'll earn $100,000 more than the major-league minimum.

REDS: Baseball officials told the team that its new centerfield wall will have to be 40 feet tall, eclipsing by 3 feet the famous leftfield Green Monster at Boston's Fenway Park. The team has made major changes at Cinergy Field to open space for a new ballpark under construction alongside it. The outfield stands have been removed and the outfield wall has been moved closer to the plate and built up. The team had planned on a 32-foot wall in straightaway center, but officials required the 40-foot backdrop so hitters can see the ball.

ROYALS: Left-hander Jose Rosado will begin the season on the disabled list with an injured pitching shoulder. Rosado, a two-time All-Star, had surgery June 23 and has not pitched since April 30.

TIGERS: Bobby Higginson rejected a contract offer and moved one step closer to testing the free-agent market after the season. Agent Ed Hayes said he was asking for a little more than $40-million over four years. He said the counteroffer was worth less than $36-million over four years. Manager Phil Garner selected right-hander Jeff Weaver for his first opening-day start. Weaver is scheduled to face the Twins in the April 3 opener at Comerica Park. Dean Palmer, expected to see his first action at third base Thursday, said is not ready to play third yet. His surgically repaired right shoulder is still causing pain when he throws.

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