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SPORTS TODAY

No more pouting Thomas as the Big Hurt returns

After spending six days away from the Chicago White Sox complaining his $9.9 million salary was too low, Frank Thomas returned Tuesday and said his boycott wasn't about the money.

"I did look like a poster boy for greed over the weekend, but that is not the case," Thomas said after returning to camp in Tucson, Ariz. "I've never been greedy. I've had a couple of opportunities to be the highest-paid player in this game, and I didn't want to be there."

Thomas acknowledged that fans, whose favor he regained by hitting .328 last year with 43 homers and 143 RBIs, probably would turn on him.

"I extend my apologies to those who were affected by my absence," he said. "It was a big distraction. I do want to apologize to my teammates and all Chicago White Sox fans."

Thomas, who returned on the mandatory reporting date specified by baseball's collective bargaining agreement, is due $9,927,000 in each of the next six seasons, but only this year is really guaranteed.

Elsewhere:

At Fort Lauderdale, Fla., the Baltimore Orioles said Albert Belle won't be in their lineup for their spring opener against St. Louis because of a sore hip that has put his future with the team in doubt.

While Belle will miss the road trip to Jupiter, he is scheduled to start in right field the next day against the Minnesota Twins at Fort Lauderdale.

Omar Vizquel, Cleveland's perennial Gold Glove shortstop, has agreed to terms on a $15 million, two-year contract extension with the Indians, a baseball source told the Associated Press. Vizquel had been signed through 2002 at $3 million per season. The extension includes a mutual option for 2005.

Yankees outfielder Shane Spencer, recovering from knee surgery, might not be ready by opening day. "I'm not counting on him right now," manager Joe Torre said.

Jeff Gordon's crew chief receives $25,000 fine

The crew chief for three-time Winston Cup champion Jeff Gordon (left) was fined $25,000 by NASCAR for fielding a car that failed to meet minimum height requirements in the Dura Lube 400.

Crew chief Robbie Loomis was fined after an inspection following Monday's race at Rockingham, N.C., found Gordon's No. 24 Chevrolet "to be under the specified height requirement after the completion of time trials or the race."

Gordon finished third in the rain-delayed race, won by Steve Park.

Also, the crew chief of Kenny Wallace's No 27 Pontiac, Barry Dodson, was fined $1,000 by NASCAR for using equipment that failed to conform to the rules.

In other auto racing news, Duke Nalon, who began racing during the 1930s and twice started the Indianapolis 500 from the pole position, died at an Indianapolis hospital. He was 87.

Autopsy incomplete on Florida State player

An autopsy on Florida State linebacker Devaughn Darling was inconclusive and investigators say it may be weeks before the medical examiner knows the cause of death.

"We must now rely on the lab results and various tests," Florida State University Maj. Jack Handley said following Tuesday's autopsy. "They could not find anything visually that could possibly alert them to the cause of death."

Darling collapsed and died after an offseason workout Monday, and a Florida State player told a Houston TV station that Darling had complained of chest pains during the fatal workout.

"He was complaining to the players, 'It's like my chest is hurting,' " freshman offensive lineman Bobby Meeks told television station KRIV. "It was like (players saying) I don't want to hear it or whatever."

Elsewhere, Syracuse University All-Big East Conference linebacker Clifton Smith and a teammate have been charged with resisting arrest and obstructing police following an incident at a city mall. Smith and Jason Mandler, a walk-on kicker, spent Saturday night in jail and were arraigned Sunday in Syracuse City Court, police said.

Agassi pushed to limit by Lee

Last fall at Flushing Meadows, Korean Hyung-Taik Lee introduced himself to the tennis world by advancing to the fourth round of the U.S. Open.

Last month in Melbourne, Australia, Andre Agassi ascended back to the top of the tennis world by winning the Australian Open.

Those two story lines collided Tuesday night in the first round of the Sybase Open. Both story lines continued.

Agassi, the world's No. 1-ranked player, is still on top -- barely -- after gutting out a 7-5, 3-6, 6-3 victory at San Jose Arena.

As for Lee, if his accomplishments at the U.S. Open hadn't made him a household name yet, he should be now after his performance against Agassi.

Lee matched Agassi serve-for-serve, ground stroke-for-ground stroke and return for return. Agassi notched one more service break than Lee in the third set to pull out the victory.

Agassi, a four-time Sybase Open winner, advances to the second round to play the winner of today's match between Michel Kratochvil and Davide Sanguinetti.

"He's got a good game," Agassi said of Lee. "I knew he was a good player, and he pretty much played like I thought he would. But that's all on paper. Until you get out there and get a feel for a guy, you never know."

The other highlighted match of the day featured Andy Roddick, 18, who ended last year as the No. 1 junior player in the world. He beat Chris Woodruff, 6-4, 6-4, mixing in a wicked 138 mph serve in the process.

At the State Farm Women's Tennis Classic in Phoenix, Lindsay Davenport had to wait a day to play her first match in nearly a month because rain washed out her match with Gala Leon Garcia.

Qualifier Jana Nejedly beat Lilia Osterloh, 7-5, 6-2.

Around & About

NBC insists it is sticking with the XFL despite a ratings free-fall in which the football league narrowly missed a dubious milestone last week -- that of being the lowest-rated prime-time show ever among the top three networks. "I certainly hope it has bottomed out," NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker said of the new football league. "We will stick with it and give it a chance to grow."

Adrian Baugh (Traditional) had 22 points and Monty Montgomery (Bennett) and Kevin Lange (Randolph) both scored 14 as Daemen (19-13) dropped an 81-64 decision to Roberts Wesleyan (22-11) in the Northeast Athletic Conference men's basketball title game. Roberts Wesleyan clinched an automatic berth in the NAIA Division II Tournament with the victory. . . . In women's basketball, Cayuga CC defeated Erie CC, 75-63. Chaney Barlow's 26 points led the Kats (10-21).

Basketball Tonight

Tonight is Senior Night at the Reilly Center in Olean, where St. Bonaventure (16-10 overall, 7-7 in the Atlantic 10 Conference) hosts George Washington (12-15, 6-8) at 7:30.

Center Peter Van Paassen is 29 points shy of becoming the 33rd player in Bona history to score 1,000 career points. It's also the final home game for forward Kevin Houston, the team's leading scorer at 19.1 points per game, guard James Hayden and swingman Bob Dziengeleski. The Colonials won the first meeting of the season, 76-68, in Washington on Jan. 27 and have beaten the Bonnies four straight times. Bona's last win in the series was 74-63 in Olean on Jan. 6, 1997.

The University at Buffalo (4-21, 2-14) goes for its third win in six games when it travels to Kent State (19-8, 12-4) for a Mid-American Conference game of great importance for the Golden Flashes. Kent can assure itself a share of the East Division title with a win. Kent beat the Bulls, 58-52, at Alumni Arena Jan. 17.

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