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(DAILY_WILDCAT)

By The Associated Press
Arizona Daily Wildcat
March 28, 1997

Former Wildcat Lofton debuts with Atlanta, goes 2-for-4

TAMPA, Fla. - For all that Kenny Lofton does, all the hitting and bunting and stealing, perhaps the most exciting part of his game happens on the other side of the center field fence.

That's where Lofton has gone time and time again, with a leap and grab to the hushed amazement of the crowd, to bring back home-run balls and games with the best of them.

Lofton, sent to the Atlanta Braves in a trade even more improbable than some of his finest catches, has a new center field to roam now. He joined the Braves for a game Thursday night against the New York Yankees, who went 9-3 against his old team and beat his new one in the World Series last year.

''It's different,'' Lofton said, still wearing a uniform with no name or number during batting practice. ''It just feels weird.''

Lofton later changed into his familiar No. 7 and was greeted with soft cheers by the Yankees crowd. The leadoff hitter waved to the Yankees' dugout before striking out looking against David Cone in his first at-bat for the Braves.

Atlanta' new center fielder went 2-for-4 with two soft singles to center. He led off the sixth with a single and stole second, but was picked off by Brian Boehringer. Lofton caught the only fly ball that was hit to him and came out in the seventh inning.

Lofton replaces Marquis Grissom, who went to the Cleveland Indians in Tuesday's blockbuster deal. He will try to win a World Series with the very team that denied him one in 1995.

''I was mad at 'em,'' Lofton said of the Braves, who beat Cleveland in that memorable six-game series. ''They beat up on us.''

Before they'd even found a jersey for their new center fielder, the Braves shuffled their outfield again Thursday. A trade that sent Jermaine Dye to the Royals seemed to clear the way for an outfield of Ryan Klesko in left, Lofton in center and youngster Andruw Jones in right.

Manager Bobby Cox said Michael Tucker, acquired from Kansas City in the deal, also will play some right field.

Whoever's out there with Lofton will have a nice view of him trying out his signature play, the home-run-saving catch, at new Turner Field. The center-field wall in Atlanta's new ballpark is the same height as the one at Jacobs Field 8 feet.

That's two feet shorter than at old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, where Otis Nixon once climbed the wall for an incredible grab known in Atlanta as ''The Catch.''

''Cool,'' Lofton said, peering out into center field.

In one of the best baseball catches in recent memory, Lofton snared a shot by B.J. Surhoff that would have given the Baltimore Orioles the lead in the eighth inning of a game at Cleveland last August.

''It's just instinct,'' Lofton said.

When the Indians traded for Lofton in 1991, many wondered if this raw talent who had played in the 1988 NCAA basketball Final Four with Arizona could excel in baseball.

This was not a man who liked his resolve questioned. Weighing only three pounds at birth, Lofton was raised as an only child by his grandmother in the housing projects of East Chicago, Ind.

He had always taken offense at doubters.

''I think they always questioned what I could do or what I couldn't do,'' Lofton said. ''And I think they questioned, 'Is he going to get any better?'''

Lofton showed 'em.

Indians general manager John Hart said he had to trade Lofton to keep from losing him to free agency. Albert Belle, Lofton's teammate for five years who is now with the Chicago White Sox, has been quoted as saying the Lofton trade will cause ''chaos'' in Cleveland.

''It was already chaos over there,'' Lofton said. ''I don't know. I guess there'll be more chaos.''

It's not even certain how long Lofton will be in Atlanta. The Braves traded for him knowing that Lofton can become a free agent after the season.

''I don't know, I just got here,'' Lofton said. ''This is the first time I've put on my uniform today. I haven't had time to talk to anyone about it. But it would be nice to stay in Atlanta. It'd be real nice.''


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