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Strike threat cools stadium talk
by Mark Brunswick

The Senate sponsor of Twins stadium legislation told the team's player representative that the threat of a strike by the players union "has all but dissolved the public's desire to contribute to a new stadium."

In a letter to Denny Hocking, the Twins players' union representative, Sen. Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar, said that if there is a strike, the Legislature "will find it difficult to reopen" stadium discussions in 2003, particularly given cuts in government services, a looming budget deficit, transportation needs and the damage done to parts of the state by floods. A copy of the letter was sent to Twins President Jerry Bell.

"Legislators' focus next session will be on the budget deficit, not another stadium bill," Johnson said in the letter. "If there is a strike, a stadium bill would be even less of a priority."

He added: "A players' strike would be detrimental to baseball, but possibly devastating to the Minnesota Twins."

Hocking said the letter puts him in an awkward position.

"It seems like I'm being blamed here," he said. "I'm part of a union. If 29 guys vote one way and I vote the other, how does that make me look to my peers?"

Hocking added: "I'm sure there have been times when [Johnson has] gone through that. Someone is trying to pass a bill they are not 100 percent in favor of, but they still go ahead and agree to it. That's the way I feel."

Hocking said the Twins' survival depends on a new stadium.

"It's apparent we can't survive in Major League Baseball because of the revenue we do not generate. Building a new stadium would generate that revenue," he said.

Johnson's letter adds another elected official's voice to the chorus of concern being raised about a strike. DFL gubernatorial candidate Roger Moe, who was supportive of stadium bills as Senate majority leader, said in a letter last week to league and Twins officials as well as players that his backing will disappear if there is a strike.

In the letter he said: "If I am elected governor of Minnesota, I simply will not allow Minnesota to become partners with people whose greed is so uncontrollable and so far removed from the financial difficulties that most Minnesotans face."

House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, also said last week that a strike would cast a "negative cloud" over any debate.

"They're not only going to destroy the national pastime of baseball, but the chances of a stadium bill would be severely damaged," he said.

Looming strike

A six-year effort by the Twins to win taxpayer support for a new stadium climaxed this legislative session in historic votes in the House and Senate to approve financing for a $330 million ballpark.

The Major League Baseball Players Association set a strike date of Aug. 30 last week. That could end the Twins' remarkable season before the team reaches the playoffs for the first time since 1991. The union's executive board approved the date in a 57-0 vote, putting the sport on course for its ninth work stoppage since 1972.

Johnson, a baseball fan, ends his letter to Hocking on a positive note: "All the best to you and your colleagues as you work diligently on these difficult times. And congratulations on an exciting season and possible post-season bid."

Hocking said he still feels that an agreement can be reached between players and management.

-- Staff writer La Velle Neal and the Associated Press contributed to this report.