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SO DODGERS DON'T WANT TO GIVE PEACE A CHANCE?

Byline: KEVIN MODESTI

VERO BEACH, Fla. - Sometimes you find a revealing anecdote to lead the annual Dodgers spring-training ``mood of the camp'' column, and sometimes a revealing anecdote finds you.

Reporters were in Jim Tracy's office, taking down the manager's comments after an exhibition game here last week and minding their own business, when Jim Colborn leaned through the door. A writer kidded the pitching coach about what had seemed to be a tongue-in-cheek remark during his own postgame press session minutes earlier. Colborn had said straight-faced that a sharp effort by Kevin Brown that day had ``pushed Andy Ashby into the bullpen.''

Colborn didn't smile at the reporter's reminder and explained he hadn't exactly been goofing around.

``I was being sarcastic to express my bleeping ticked-off attitude about what you guys are writing,'' he said (give or take a word or two), a reference to L.A. newspaper and Internet articles speculating Ashby will be relegated to the bullpen and quoting the pitcher's hope to remain a starter. ``That's how I treat my opponents.''

The next morning, when an mlb.com writer approached Ashby's locker, the pitcher said loudly he no longer was speaking with reporters because the articles had caused Colborn to ``yell at me.''

``You can call me (Kevin) Brown II when you want to talk to me,'' Ashby said, naming that occasionally press-shy teammate and causing other Dodgers in the clubhouse to break up laughing.

The irony there is that Brown has been terrific with reporters this spring, at least in comparison to Ashby and Colborn last week.

Ashby later claimed implausibly that he was joking when he threatened to shut out the press, and Colborn has been cordial since calling reporters ``my opponents,'' but the episode raises questions.

During a spring when the Dodgers seem to be finding the harmony and optimism they've craved throughout the Fox ownership's tempestuous half-decade, why do they seem to want to rekindle ill will?

While the team celebrates having chased away many of the distractions of recent seasons, why is the pitching coach distracting a key pitcher by complaining about some honest quotes?

Is this a reflection of the franchise's obsession with avoiding controversy, a product of the growing pressure on the staff to win, or an attempt to foster an us-against-them spirit?

Or has the sometimes-caustic press of the Fox years driven the Dodgers nuts?

The Dodgers responded to ``mood of the camp'' questions by saying this has been an unusually relaxed, workmanlike, team-oriented spring training, which is pretty much what they say every year.

``I think we're getting back to the point where (we're) all about baseball instead of all about in-house fighting,'' Tracy said.

Tracy laughed softly when the Colborn incident in his office was brought up.

And the manager offered an analysis that's either good news for Dodgers fans or the bravest attempt at spin control in Dodgertown history.

``He's very protective of his flock (the pitchers),'' Tracy said of Colborn. ``As is the manager. So when he reads something that he feels is premature (in casting Ashby to the bullpen), he takes a little offense. As does the manager. ... That's not a bad thing, (as long as) a grudge doesn't enter into the equation.''

The Dodgers' front office has to know Colborn mishandled the situation.

``I've said to players in the past, `Don't create controversies,' '' said Derrick Hall, the club's senior vice president for communications.

But Hall amplifies Tracy's upbeat take on last week's flare-up.

``It just shows how close everyone (on the team) is and how protective they are of one another,'' Hall said, suggesting Colborn was trying to defend Ashby against negative thoughts rather than to stir him up. ``It shows how much they care for one another.''

I called this a revealing anecdote and it is.

Either it reveals the Dodgers' most rancorous era is not quite over.

Or it reveals comradeship unseen in Dodgers clubhouses of the recent past.

In the Dodgers' dreams, the day Jim Colborn ``protected'' Andy Ashby will go into history alongside the morning 15 springs ago when Kirk Gibson stormed out of Dodgertown, furious an unbusinesslike teammate put eye-black in his cap, and set the no-fooling-around tone for the club's last World Series championship.

Maybe this is not as far-fetched as it seems.

As long as they treat the opponents carrying bats and gloves the way they treated the opponents carrying pens and notepads.
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 11, 2003
Words:738
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