Publish date:


Vince Coleman was the last of the Homestead Homies to be
liberated, the call to freedom having come on April 26 from the
Kansas City Royals while he was in the indoor batting cage. Rain
had washed out the final on-field workout for the nine players
remaining in the strangest spring training camp baseball had ever
seen, but Coleman had hung around, and now he ducked into an
office to take the call. ``When he came out, he was grinning ear
to ear'' said Allyne Price, the players' union official who had
coordinated this camp for unsigned free agents. ``It was the
nicest smile of the spring.''

A smile was the last reaction you would expect from a man who had
just agreed to a minor league contract that would pay him a base
salary (if he gets called up to the majors) of $250,000 -- less
than a 10th of the $3 million his contract with the Royals was
worth in 1994. ``I didn't give up,'' said Coleman, an outfielder,
who was headed for Triple A Omaha. ``I know I can play, and I
refuse to let financial reasons get me out of the game.''

The night before, Coleman sat in a Miami hotel room and watched as
Terry Pendleton, his friend and former St. Louis Cardinal
teammate, hit a home run in his first at bat as a Florida Marlin.
Coleman switched the channel to a movie. ``That was kind of hard
to watch,'' he said. ``It was very tough, not being on an Opening
Day roster.''

Coleman, who spent two weeks in Homestead, was one of 57 players
who came through the camp. Scouts from 14 teams had come to
observe the Homies, as the players called themselves, and 36
players wound up signing contracts, most at going-out-of-business
prices like Coleman's. ``Every day you got back to your room,''
Coleman said, ``you hoped your message light was on.''

There was no light flashing for the 33-year-old Coleman -- who
last season stole 50 bases in 58 attempts for Kansas City -- when
he picked up the phone on April 25. ``I called [Royal general
manager] Herk Robinson myself,'' Coleman said. ``I didn't put my
ego in the way.'' Apparently neither did Robinson in calling back
with an offer the next day.

Among those who left Homestead without a job when the camp folded
was 39-year-old Jay Howell, who in 15 major league seasons
pitched in a World Series and was on three All-Star teams. He went
to Homestead because he felt he could still pitch in the big
leagues, but headed back home after no team seemed to feel the
same way. ``I didn't know what to expect, but you had an
opportunity to get in shape and give yourself a chance, so why not
take advantage of it?'' he said. ``In the words of that great
philosopher, Joaquin Andujar, `Jooo never know.' ''

COLOR PHOTO: BILL FRAKES Late signee Coleman turned off the lights on his way out of the first free-agent training camp. [Vince Coleman sitting in locker room]

Waiting by the Phone

A sampling of the unsigned veteran free agents, who as of Sunday
were still looking for work in the big leagues. Each player is
listed with the team he last played for.
[text not available]