Fans brave cold to catch glimpse of Jordan

By Eric Wein

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Just the mere sight of him swinging his bat in the on-deck circle elicited cheers from the crowd.

Every time he stepped out of the dugout, the camera flashes went off and hordes of children shouted his name.

Michael Jordan may not be the phenomenal presence in baseball that he was throughout his basketball career, but that was of little or no significance to the 7,836 adoring fans who filled Hi Corbett Field on Monday to watch him play for the Scottsdale Scorpions of the Arizona Fall League. As a designated hitter, he went 1-for-3 with one RBI, one run, two walks and two stolen bases.

Jordan was not just the main attraction, he was the attraction. Fans braved the cold just to see the former North Carolina and Chicago Bull basketball star play on the diamond.

Wearing a black knit with the Nike swoosh emblem and his red and black Scorpion uniform, Jordan took the rare opportunity to answer questions from a throng of media in the Scottsdale dugout.

His baseball playing in Arizona will end Thursday and Jordan is eager for some time off.

"I am a little mentally tired," he said. "I'm looking forward to going home, taking a break from baseball."

He wasn't as surprised as most would be about a large crowd showing up on a chilly night for baseball in late November. Big crowds have translated into success for Jordan he has gone 7-for-11 in front of crowds greater than 6,000 throughout his Fall League run.

"You're talking to a guy who's played in front of many, many big crowds," he said. "I'm pretty used to it by now."

Despite the work involved, Jordan has maintained his desire to play baseball. The doubt that initially surrounded his baseball career has subsided somewhat with his apparent dedication. He has announced no plans to quit.

"I still love the game," he said. "I haven't really put a time frame on it. I don't have anything else better to do than keep playing."

And Jordan still has an interest in basketball.

Last Sunday, he watched as the Phoenix Suns beat the New Jersey Nets at America West Arena, but he said he was there just for enjoyment and that it was not a reflection of a desire to return to the NBA.

"I was no different than a fan except I had a little more insight in terms of how players play, the different things they do," Jordan said. "I evaluated it from a fan's standpoint. I didn't have any urges or nothing like that."

The media spotlight that followed Jordan during his NBA career has dimmed slightly. No longer does he have to deal with reports of gambling debts or casino appearances. But as he knows, whatever he does will cause the media to follow him.

When Jordan began, he knew the media's attention would be part of his baseball career. He said he dislikes seeing his statistics published every day but still accepts it and is happy with his current status.

"Deep down inside, I feel like I've made some progress," he said. "I didn't come in expecting to hit 15 or 20 home runs and put up some unbelievable numbers. I just came in to learn as much as I can and go into spring training with a little bit more information."

Scottsdale manager Terry Francona, a former UA player, is used to the spectacle surrounding Jordan's baseball career because he was also his manager at Double-A Birmingham (Ala.) throughout the season.

"I try to help him in all aspects," Francona said. "We try to get him to understand what he needs to do. He takes off from there. He's got to play. There's only so much we can do."

For anyone who really cares, Scottsdale beat Tempe 4-2.

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