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FANS UPPING THE ANTE ON MILESTONES

The memorabilia business is an area of baseball that has been out of hand for several years. But we're approaching new levels of lunacy as Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa continue their run for Roger Maris' home run record.

There has been trouble at the gate of several stadiums this year on days when Beanie Babies have been given away, especially since some of the plush toys handed out at stadiums with commemorative cards are fetching more than $300.

I fear that chaos will be child's play compared to the bedlam that may ensue when people start going for home run balls No. 60, 61, 62 or beyond hit by Sosa or McGwire. Collectors around the country are routinely claiming home run No. 62 might fetch $1 million or more.

McGwire has scoffed at such numbers as being ridiculous. And they are. But fans nowadays see dollar signs, especially with the big money players are making. If catching a ball that should be in a display case in Cooperstown can make them instantly rich, they're going to try to capitalize from their nearest collector.

That's why it was heartening to hear what happened when San Francisco's Barry Bonds hit his 400th homer last week in Miami. The fan who caught the ball at Pro Player Stadium, Joe Sica, was offered $5,000 for it. The fan -- at the game with his wife and two children -- turned the offer down, saying he simply wanted to meet Bonds and get his autograph.

Giants teammate Orel Hershiser was so impressed when the man was brought to the clubhouse, he made sure the fan was handed a check for $5,000. Unfortunately, that's a rare story.

When former Bison Richie Sexson hit his first major-league homer Aug. 17 against Tampa Bay at Jacobs Field, the fan in the right-field seats who caught it wouldn't part with it easily.

Sexson had to surrender an autographed bat with a personalized message, eight tickets to two future Indians games, and a picture of Jacobs Field autographed by the game's nine starters, including pitcher Bartolo Colon.

Just imagine what that guy would want for one hit by McGwire or Sosa. We're getting close to finding out the fans' price.~ Martin goes back up

Indians pitcher Tom Martin, who had a 2.09 ERA last year with Houston but was largely a bust with the Bisons, was relieved to finally get the call to Cleveland last week.

"It seems like I've been in Buffalo for two years," said Martin. "I had one horrible outing when I gave up seven earned runs in one-third of an inning (Aug. 10 in a 17-3 loss to Pawtucket). Other than that I've pitched pretty well."

Martin seems to be suffering from selective memory. He's had several crummy outings this year, and that's why he spent so much time in the minors.

In five appearances with the Tribe before being sent to Buffalo, Martin gave up 16 hits and 10 walks in 8 2/3 innings, compiling an 11.42 ERA. Once he got here, he was strong on the road (1-0, 1.72), but a bust at home (2-1, 9.47).

Herd help may rest in Akron

Two players who earned championship rings with the Bisons last year are currently at Double-A Akron, but may become part of Buffalo's postseason run if the Aeros are ousted from the Eastern League playoffs.

Pitcher Travis Driskill was released by the Yakult Swallows in Japan, re-signed with Cleveland and was activated by Akron on Aug. 9. Driskill is in Akron's rotation and bumped ex-Bison Marcus Moore to the bullpen as the Indians tinker with using him as a closer to take advantage of his 95-mph fastball.

Driskill was 8-7 with Buffalo last year and was the first Bison in seven years to strike out at least 100 batters. The Herd's Opening Day starter, he also pitched a complete game in a 9-2 win over Indianapolis that forced the decisive fifth game of the American Association semifinals.

Third baseman Russell Branyan clouted 79 home runs the last two years, but has been sidelined by wrist trouble much of this year at Akron. Branyan, 22, has hit six home runs in two weeks since returning this month and might get another chance with Buffalo, where he's expected to be an everyday player next season.

Branyan joined the Herd the last week of the '97 season and had some good at-bats in the playoffs. What really opened eyes, however, were his McGwire-esque shows in batting practice. He was threatening the parking lot of the nearby RCA Dome during BP last year in Indy.

IL items

Look out. Here come the Indianapolis Indians, roaring back into contention in the IL West. Shortstop Damian Jackson is hitting .410 this month through Thursday and has hit safely in 21 of his last 25 games. The Tribe finishes the season with four games against first-place Louisville.

"I'd like to go out on a good note," said Jackson, who had been hitting under .220 for much of the season. "I want to go out with my head held high. For that matter, so do my teammates. We've just been trying to pull together, hang in there, and throughout it all it's nice to still have control of our destiny."

The Durham Bulls are going to be a prohibitive favorite no matter who they meet in the Governors' Cup semifinals. Durham won the last nine games of its season series with Louisville, and won its last seven against Indianapolis as part of the Indians' 10-game losing streak.

That skid, by the way, was Indy's longest since a 10-gamer in 1965, when four of the losses were charged to a youngster named Dave DeBusschere who was still trying to choose between basketball and baseball. He made the right choice.

The Ottawa Lynx continue to be on the market and there are no local takers. Officials in Bowie, Md., who run a highly successful Double-A franchise, continue to be the most interested. The Lynx will sell fewer than 250,000 tickets this year, the lowest total in the International League.

LUMBER COMPANIES

The top hitting minor-league teams, with statistics through Thursday:
HOME RUNS
Team-ClassParentLeagueHRs
Iowa-AAACubsPacific Coast200
Omaha-AAAKansas CityPacific Coast194
Buffalo-AAAClevelandInternational189
Wichita-AAKansas CityTexas180
Pawtucket-AAABostonInternational173
Macon-AAtlantaSouth Atlantic168
Fresno-AAASan FranciscoPacific Coast166
Jackson-AAHoustonSouthern162
Scranton/WB-AAAPhiladelphiaInternational153
Calgary-AAAWhite SoxPacific Coast150
BATTING AVERAGE
Team-ClassParentLeagueAVG.
El Paso-AAMilwaukeeTexas.294
New Orleans-AAAHoustonPacific Coast.292
Midland-AAAnaheimTexas.291
Wichita-AAKansas CityTexas.291
Jacksonville-AADetroitSouthern.289
Las Vegas-AAASan DiegoPacific Coast.287
Dunedin-ATorontoFlorida State.285
Albuquerque-AAALos AngelesPacific Coast.284
Lancaster-ASeattleCalifornia.284
Buffalo-AAAClevelandInternational.283
NOTE: Does not include short-season Class A teams.

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