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'Dogs hope Dems accept their pitch

The Devil Rays' Charleston, S.C., minor-league team wants to find out which of the Democratic presidential candidates are the real heavy hitters.

Riverdogs officials have invited all seven candidates to take batting practice at Joseph P. Riley Jr. Park before Tuesday's South Carolina primary.

The candidates have heard the pitch. But, so far anyway, none is willing to step up to the plate and take a swing.

"It's still a possibility," media relations coordinator Dan Lehv said. "We've been in touch with the (Howard) Dean, (John) Kerry and (John) Edwards camps as recently as (Thursday). But at this point, no one has committed."

The stadium will be available any time day or night between now and Tuesday, and the 'Dogs are planning to have Rays prospect Jeff Ridgway on the mound. In the spirit of equal time, they also invited President Bush and his Cabinet to come out swinging.

"This would show a different side of the candidates the voters don't get to see," Lehv said. "You can watch them give their stump speech only so many times. You know what the voters are really thinking. Can these guys hit a curveball?

"Plus, as GM Derek Sharrer said, we want them to focus on what we think are the real campaign issues: wood vs. aluminum bats, grass vs. artificial turf and switch-hitters."

_ MARC TOPKIN

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