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CNN Today

John Rocker Prepares for New York Fans

Aired June 29, 2000 - 2:01 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: The last time a rocker got so much attention at Shea Stadium it probably was back in the mid '60s, when the Beatles played there. John Rocker returns to Shea tonight for the first time since his inflammatory remarks in "Sports Illustrated." The Atlanta Braves reliever is sure to get the old Bronx cheer from Mets fans in Queens.

A Gallup poll shows John Rocker about as popular with Americans as Linda Tripp or Saddam Hussein. He got a 13 percent approval rating, compared with 88 percent for golfer Tiger Woods. In between the two extremes, you see the ratings for the presidential candidates.

CNN's Jeff Flock joins us now from New York, with the latest on all of this.

JEFF FLOCK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Indeed, Lou, we're not at Shea, it's perhaps close, though. In fact, we are in the Corona section of Queens, less than a mile from the ball park. This is called Linden Park in the Corona section. We have been traveling around the ethnic melting pot that is Queens all day today, talking to people about John Rocker. After all, they are the people that John Rocker was talking about.

But first we want to take you to the top of news, and that is that just a short time ago, John Rocker left his hotel in downtown Manhattan, headed for Shea Stadium presumably. But not on the No. 7 train that we've all heard so much about. It was in fact in an unmarked police van. Rocker appeared to be the only player inside. As we said, presumably heading for Shea Stadium.

But where did this all start? Well, let's take you back to the National League Championship Series last year. New York Mets-Atlanta Braves, in a hard-fought series and it was the fiery, opinionated Rocker who took on the fans in some way. He was booed by them, taunted by them, had objects thrown at him, beer dumped on his girlfriend. And he taunted in return.

So that's where it all started, but it was really the December 27 issue of "Sports Illustrated" where it all came to a head. Those were the comments that perhaps you now know were said by one of the local columnists this morning that people know Rocker's comments like the police know the Miranda rights reading. It was the comments about gays, about immigrants, about unwed mothers, all of that stuff. Specifically, people riding on the No. 7 train, decrying that as kind of taking a train through Beirut. It was those comments that got him into deep water.

As a result of those comments, today, we are facing perhaps upwards of 500 police officers at Shea Stadium, less than a mile from where we stand right now. They will be there with job one, to protect John Rocker. Have we all made too much of all of this perhaps? well, perhaps we have. But in our discussions throughout this day in Queens, perhaps you see me surrounded by a whole host of folks who have John Rocker on their mind, they may have had enough -- they say that perhaps we've made a little too much of it. But after all, John Rocker's comments were very inflammatory and needed to be met. That is the latest from here.

Queens, the Corona section of Queens, back to you, Lou.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, thanks, Jeff.

Mets players are saying play ball. They're tired of the Rocker ruckus and contend they're more concerned about 24 other Braves players.

Here's CNN/Sports Illustrated correspondent Mark Morgan.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARK MORGAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There will be fans, there will be police, and there will be John Rocker. Those three elements converge at Shea Stadium Thursday night in what could be the most hyped moment in Mets history.

AL LEITER, METS PITCHER: I think it's a kind of a pathetic side distraction that has nothing to do with baseball.

MORGAN: Oh, yes, there will be a baseball game played as well. A game between two division rivals fighting for first place. A series that will mark the first meeting of the Mets and Braves since their monumental battle in last year's National League Championship Series; and all that seems forgotten.

TODD ZEILE, METS FIRST BASEMAN: I think it just takes away from the baseball part of it. Obviously we have to worry about security. We've got 500 police here at the stadium because of, you know, the fact that they've got to protect him.

LEITER: That's even more of a reason to piss you off, to think of what the city has to spend and Major League Baseball has to spend to protect one guy. I find it unbelievable. But I guess we have to waste some money somewhere.

MORGAN: On the field, Rocker has dominated the Mets with seven saves, 20 strikeouts and zero earned runs in 13 games last season. But there's little doubt, the Mets are as tired of about him talking about him as they are of facing him.

MIKE PIAZZA, METS CATCHER: You know, I know the media has their job to do and it's obviously a point of interest. But you know, we have to stay focused on what we have to do as well. So I've always found it advantageous not to, you know, look too far ahead, you know, when it gets here, it gets here. Unfortunately in this day of media attention, we have to keep hearing about it. But I think we're all sick to our stomach talking about it.

TURK WENDELL, METS RELIEF PITCHER: Yes, I'm pretty much tired of talking about it too, I don't know the guy and he's just somebody we play against. Sure, there's a lot of stuff but it has really nothing to do with me. So why should I even be wasting my time talking about it.

MORGAN (on camera): Rocker will be shielded in the visiting bullpen from angry Mets fans, and the need for such security measures may put a cloud over the start of this series. But the players insist this is not about Rocker and his inflammatory comments, this is about the Mets and the Braves and the battle for NL East supremacy.

(voice-over): And baseball is what the Mets want to focus on not the circus side show that's coming to town.

In New York, I'm Mark Morgan.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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