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Catcher back with champs in D.C.

Ivan Rodriguez rejoined the Marlins for a day, going with the team to the White House on Friday to celebrate Florida's World Series title.

The 10-time All-Star catcher, who became a free agent after the six-game win over the Yankees, rejected a $24-million, three-year offer from the Marlins. Detroit has offered a $40-million, four-year deal, and his agent, Scott Boras, made a counteroffer Friday.

"We communicated today and continued to talk," Boras said, without going into details. He said he still is talking with other teams about Rodriguez.

President Bush, the former Rangers owner who was Rodriguez's boss in Texas, talked about the catcher during the photo opportunity in the East Room.

"I remember when my friend, Pudge Rodriguez, stood up to the world and said, "2003 is going to be the year of the Marlin,' " Bush said. "And a lot of people said, "I'm not so sure he knows what he's talking about.' Turns out he did know what he's talking about. And I want to congratulate Pudge."

Bush recalled that Rodriguez got married the day he got his first major-league hit.

"And here he sits as a member of the great world champs," said Bush, facing a re-election bid this year. "Pudge, congratulations for being a good friend and a great player. You're so good about predicting victories, do you have any suggestions for, like, '04?"

Bush joked that Marlins manager Jack McKeon was a member "of the old geezers club" and, referring to the secretary of defense, called him "the Donald Rumsfeld of baseball: kind of crusty, but knows what he's doing."

Bush remembered meeting Marlins president David Samson in a receiving line.

"He said, "We're going to win it all this year,' " Bush said. "And I kind of dismissed him like another crank and moved him on."

Bush also renewed his call for steroid-free sports.

A-ROD JOINS UM BOARD: Fifteen months after donating $3.9-million to the University of Miami's baseball program, AL MVP Alex Rodriguez was appointed to the school's board of trustees. The board approves coaching hires and played a role in Miami's move from the Big East to the ACC last summer.

ASTROS: Houston is about ready to add free-agent reliever Dave Veres to its roster. Veres, a right-hander, started his career with Houston in 1994.

EXPOS: Eddie Rodriguez was hired as bench coach. Rodriguez, who spent the past three seasons on manager Bob Brenly's staff with the Diamondbacks, replaces Brad Mills, who joined the Red Sox this month.

REDS: Right-hander Todd Van Poppel, who joined Cincinnati in July and saw limited action, was added to the 40-man roster.

ROCKIES: Left-hander Shawn Estes agreed to a minor-league contract and was invited to spring training.

ROYALS: Left-hander Darrell May agreed to a $4.95-million, two-year contract, avoiding salary arbitration.

WHITE SOX: Shingo Takatsu brushed up on his English before he was introduced as the team's newest member. "I'm very excited to be here," said Japan's career saves leader. "Chicago is my field of dreams." Takatsu officially signed his $1-million, one-year contract, autographed a ball for the team Hall of Fame as the team's first Japanese player, pulled on a No. 10 jersey and ventured onto the snow-covered U.S. Cellular Field for a photo opportunity.

YANKEES: Reliever Steve Karsay reported no problems after his fourth bullpen session in the past two weeks. The right-hander threw 30 fastballs at the minor-league complex in Tampa.

OBITUARY: John Blatnik, an outfielder who played with the Phillies and Cardinals from 1948-50, died Wednesday at his home in eastern Ohio after a long illness. He was 82.

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