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Arizona Fall League

SCOTTSDALE, Arizona -- I just didn't want it to end that way.

Didn't want my last impression of the 2003 baseball season to be the crushing defeat at Wrigley Field last Wednesday.

So with that, I hied myself over to Scottsdale Stadium for an Arizona Fall League game; and actually, this was more of an exhibition game, because the USA Baseball squad that is practicing up for the Olympic qualifying tournament in Panama from October 30 through November 11, is playing a dozen games against AFL teams, and today they were playing the quaintly named Mesa Desert Dogs, who consist of prospects from the Red Sox, Pirates, Phillies, Indians and Athletics.

It was hot today -- 100 degrees. In fact, if it hits 100 tomorrow, and it's supposed to, that will be the latest-ever 100-degree reading here in the Valley of the Sun. Nevertheless, it really is a dry heat, as it didn't really feel that hot.

Neither were the Devil Dogs. Josh Hancock, a Phillies prospect, threw well for three innings and then blew up in the fourth, and then Greg Kubes (pronounced Kub-ish, and he threw just about as awkwardly) came in and gave up a three-run homer to Justin Leone, who had also homered off Hancock the inning before. Leone is a Mariners third-base prospect when he is not on Team USA, and he looked great today, hitting a double as well as the two homers, and the Mariners can use a third baseman.

It's kind of refreshing to sit in a stadium where you park for free, pay $5 at the door and sit anywhere. There were about 150 people in the stands, many of whom appeared to be relatives and friends of the players (I wound up sitting right in front of a few people cheering loudly for USA pitcher and Twins prospect J.J. Durbin, who gave up three hits the first inning he worked, but eventually settled down). In addition to hearing every one of the umpiring calls, and coaches exhorting hitters to "work the zone", you can hear cellphones ringing from all the way across the ballpark.

Team USA finally defeated the Desert Dogs 10-3 -- and you can click on that link a bit later if it doesn't work right away; I suspect the recaps won't be in till late tonight or tomorrow, and after seeing this team play only one game, I think it's pretty well set for the international tournament. The club is pretty serious about winning, as there are several people with major league experience, including today's starter, Jason Stanford of the Cleveland Indians, and Ernie Young, last of the Tigers, though I'd swear he's been around since the '70s.

And one last thing about that. Roger Clemens, who is retiring from the Yankees at the end of the World Series, has made several public statements about his desire to pitch for the 2004 Olympic team. His remarks were met with some dismissal by USOC officials.

Frankly, if a man with the stature and talent of Roger Clemens wants to represent his country in the Olympics, I'd say let him. Not only would it be good for the Olympic team, to have someone like this performing, but it would lend some star quality to the team, and maybe even give the USA a better shot at winning gold.