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FORMER RED SOX DEFEND DECISION TO WEAR OLD COLORS

Derek Lowe and Dave Roberts got huge ovations Monday when they returned to Fenway Park to receive their World Series rings. Then they left Boston again and that's when the controversy started. Both players took the field wearing their old Red Sox jerseys, and you have to wonder how that played in the eyes of their new teammates in Los Angeles and San Diego.

The Red Sox had the jerseys specially made for the ceremony and handed them to Lowe and Roberts just before they took the field. The players were told they could keep the jerseys or have them auctioned for charity.

"I wasn't alone. Dave Roberts wore it, the minor leaguers who aren't in the organization anymore wore it," Lowe told reporters upon his return to Los Angeles. "I didn't even think about it. It was just part of the ceremony. As I was heading to the field, they handed it to me. It would have looked worse if I didn't wear it. It was part of the deal. It's not like I begged them."

Publicly at least, the Dodgers supported Lowe.

"There are people who have played this game a long time who never had an opportunity to experience what he did," Los Angeles manager Jim Tracy said.

The Padres, however, weren't as forthcoming with support for Roberts, who will be coming off the disabled list this week after suffering a groin pull during spring training.

"It's something so positive with what happened there after 86 years, and now people are talking so much about me wearing a jersey and that just doesn't make sense to me, to take something so positive and turn it into a negative," Roberts said when he returned to the Padres in Chicago. "Anybody who knows me wouldn't ever question my loyalty."

"I didn't have a problem with him going to the ceremony," San Diego manager Bruce Bochy said. "But maybe wearing the uniform -- that's their decision, but I'm sure it's not going to be a popular decision with players' teammates."

Padres reliever Trevor Hoffman told MLB.com that he understood Roberts' position and that his teammate was paying tribute to the 86-year title drought the Red Sox had endured by returning for the ceremony.

"There's not a problem here," Hoffman said when asked his opinion. "But I understand how it can be perceived. . . . My feelings run very deep as far as fraternization goes and protecting the integrity of the ballclub. This isn't an ordinary situation. It obviously hasn't been done before. You don't see guys flying back for other teams' ring ceremonies.

"Sometimes, you just have to take a higher ground. As much as we talk about drawing a line in the sand about what team you're with and what team you're not with, to have an opportunity to bring a championship to a city that lives and dies and breathes baseball is a good thing."

Kudos from The Boss

Seattle scout and Eggertsville resident Bob Miske came to Dunn Tire Park last week showing a letter he received over the winter from Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. It congratulated him for being named to the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame. After a long career with the Dodgers, Miske worked for the Yankees before getting the same fate as most of Steinbrenner's managers a couple of years ago. Miske made the hall as a scout and a longtime basketball official.

Wrote Steinbrenner: "Your induction is well earned and well deserved. Your skills and qualifications were always impeccable and you brought a consistency and professionalism that is sometimes lacking in many scouts and/or officials. . . . You have my sincere congratulations and my utmost respect."

Around the horn

Indians pitcher C.C. Sabathia is ready to make his first start of the season today against Minnesota, and the Twins have some bulletin-board fodder to get ready. "I can't wait. I hate the Twins, and they know it," Sabathia said a couple of weeks ago when told his opponent for his injury-delayed 2005 debut.

Sabathia is next in line on the Indians' quest to sign its young stars to long-term contracts. Already signed this month are catcher Victor Martinez (five years, $15.5 million) and designated hitter Travis Hafner (three years, $7 million). It's the philosophy that allowed Cleveland to retain players such as Albert Belle, Charles Nagy and Sandy Alomar in the early '90s.

Other teams are paying attention. The Devil Rays signed outfielder Carl Crawford (six years, $32.5 million), the A's signed pitcher Rich Harden (four years, $9 million) and the Reds are interested in talking to both Adam Dunn and Austin Kearns about long-term deals.

Twins first baseman Justin Morneau is scheduled to come off the disabled list Friday after getting beaned April 8 in Seattle, but the team is increasingly concerned about his recurring head injuries. Morneau had to see a neurologist because of four prior concussions. Some came while playing basketball and hockey in his native British Columbia. Morneau reported rushes of pain in his head while swinging the bat after the latest incident.

Phillies General Manager Ed Wade got an unwelcome Opening Day present: A letter from the agent of star first base prospect Ryan Howard requesting a trade. Howard belted a combined 46 home runs last year for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and Double-A Reading and added two more in a brief September trial in Philadelphia. He batted .315 with three homers for the Phillies in spring training but is hopelessly locked behind Jim Thome. Howard entered the weekend with no homers but batting .486 for Scranton.

Herd through grapevine

Jhonny Peralta has already made four errors at shortstop in Cleveland, and the concern was big enough for manager Eric Wedge to sit him in favor of Alex Cora for two straight games last week, including the Tribe's home opener. Peralta had trouble on his backhand in his late-season stint with Cleveland last September and is struggling to make adjustments with his footwork.

"This early in the season, you want to ease young guys in and keep your veteran guys strong," Wedge said in downplaying the situation. "Jhonny has a strong mind-set. He'll be fine."

Russell Branyan wowed observers at Miller Park with two home runs in the Brewers' home-opening win Monday over the Pirates. The first went 465 feet, second in park history to Branyan's 480-foot blast last year off Greg Maddux. The second was measured at a mere 399, prompting this gem from Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel columnist Tom Haudricourt: "If Branyan were a fisherman, he would have thrown it back because it was too small."

If the Marlins need a spare outfielder, Mark Little is making a good case to be their man. Little, who was with Buffalo the last two years, was 15 for 27 and led the Pacific Coast League in batting (.556) and home runs (five) as Albuquerque roared to a team-record 7-0 start.

Little had two doubles off Chicago Cubs pitcher Mark Prior, throwing on rehab for Iowa in a game in Albuquerque, and also had a franchise-record three-homer game for the Isotopes. During the spring with Florida, Little had one four-hit game and also clubbed a game-winning homer in the ninth inning of an 11-9 win over the Mets.

e-mail: mharrington@buffnews.com