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Players back off earlier concerns about playing games in Toronto Add to ...

You could find Brent Mayne of the Kansas City Royals eating lunch at an eatery on Queen Street West yesterday afternoon. At 5:45 p.m., you could find his teammate, first baseman Mike Sweeney, going out of his way to sign autographs for fans just before batting practice, using their pens. Royals pitcher Runelvys Hernandez followed suit.

The Royals heard about severe acute respiratory syndrome in the days leading up to their trip to Toronto for a three-game series against the Blue Jays that began at the SkyDome last night. They felt the hysteria. Now they, along with the Blue Jays, know the reality of the situation.

"I kind of knew a lot of what we were hearing was overblown, that you weren't going to see a lot of people walking around in masks," said Mayne, the 14-year veteran catcher.

"I still walked around town today. Basically, you'll find the whole gamut of emotions in this clubhouse. Some guys are worried. Some aren't. Some guys will stay in the hotel, some won't. Like anything else, with some people they try to have fun with it to take away whatever tension they feel."

Top officials from the commissioner's office and the Major League Baseball Players Association arrived in Toronto yesterday to examine the situation for themselves. This came a day after Major League Baseball's chief medical adviser, Dr. Elliott Pellman, held a conference call with trainers from five teams who will be in Toronto before the All-Star Game break.

Sandy Alderson, the executive vice-president of baseball operations for commissioner Bud Selig, accepted an invitation to attend a pregame meeting between Paul Godfrey, the Blue Jays' president and chief executive officer, and the team's players. Alderson also talked to the Royals players, the coaches and the training staff. Gene Orza, the No. 2 man in the players' association, was also in attendance. He said that for the time being a representative of the association would probably be in attendance at the start of each Blue Jays' homestand.

Alderson said there had been no discussion of moving a series from Toronto. Kevin Appier of the Anaheim Angels has said he wants next week's series at the SkyDome moved to Anaheim. But Alderson said baseball would make a further evaluation "if the risk were to be re-evaluated in light of new information about changed circumstances.

"But I don't expect that to be the case," he added. "I'm very comfortable that the situation here is close to normal. The more information people get from being in the environment instead of reading about it from a distance, the more comfortable they are.

"It was important to make an assessment and a decision at the beginning of the homestand, which of course will have to be re-evaluated from time to time, based on whatever developments exist. We're here not to try to dispell something at the outset, but to say we've analyzed the facts and are comfortable, and if facts change, we will evaluate it."

Len Frejlich, the visiting clubhouse manager at the SkyDome, said he had not taken any extra precautions that differed from the Blue Jays' first homestand.

Royals trainer Nick Swartz said that the only difference between the medical equipment bag he packed for this trip and the one he took on an earlier 10-day trip to Detroit, Cleveland and Chicago was that he packed several packages of disinfectant hand wipes. But that wasn't because of SARS.

"We had an outbreak of the flu on that last trip and something like 17 guys came down with it," Swartz said. "So from that point on, I decided I was going to take them along. It's probably a good thing to do, anyhow."

A club spokesman said the team was not scheduling special team meals at its hotel.

Several Royals players, such as Raul Ibanez, said they would probably not sign autographs. Mayne said he had signed some in the Royals hotel. Baseball never issued any formal guidelines for players, but Pellman suggested that players use their own pens to sign autographs or, if they were really uncomfortable, to simply decline politely.

One day after suggesting that the Blue Jays would stop signing autographs, player representative Vernon Wells said, "If guys want to sign, they'll sign."

Some of the Blue Jays have already sent their families home. Wells and his wife, who had lunch at their usual Front Street eatery yesterday, will make a decision in the next few days.

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