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WSI News - News Watch

Living on the bubble

By Jimmy Greenfield,

TUCSON, Ariz. -- What a shame that Willie Harris is such a light sleeper and didn't think to wear earplugs the other night.

If he had, Harris might already know if he had made the White Sox Opening Day roster.

"Sunday morning my roommate Lee Evans came in to wake me up to go to the field," Harris explains. "And I was dreaming about the roster. I was walking to go look at the roster. It was posted on the wall or something and guys were coming in from looking at the roster and I'm on my way to look...

"Then (Lee) knocks and goes 'Willie! Time to get up!'"

Too bad. Now, if he makes the team, Harris won't be able to say that, literally, his dream came true.

After the White Sox cut or reassigned six players on Monday, the number of players left in camp was reduced to 28, or 27 if you consider Jim Parque is already ticketed for Triple-A Charlotte.

That leaves only two more players to be cut, and it doesn't take a baseball insider to figure out that left-hander Mike Porzio, catcher Josh Paul and Harris are all fighting for that final roster spot.

Barring an injury or trade, one of them will be in a luxury hotel in Seattle next Monday while the other two will be heading cross country to begin their seasons down on the farm, at the Sox' Triple-A farm club in Charlotte.

Except for the elite, most players at one time or another have experienced what Porzio, Paul and Harris are going through, just as thousands of high school kids are doing right now trying to make their varsity teams.

When White Sox manager Jerry Manuel informs the players who will be sent down of their fate, he won't just be talking to them from five years experience as a manager. He's been there as a player too.

"I did that with the Cubs," Manuel said. "It was tough because they took all my stuff to Chicago. Dallas Green and Lee Elia were there at that time. In that situation there they made a trade on the very last day of spring. That's a tough deal, but you've got to move on."

Manuel did move on with his minor league career for four more seasons, but from that point on he never appeared in a big league game again.

As camp was about to break for the start of the 1997 season, Todd Ritchie was on the verge of beginning his eighth professional season without having spent a day in the Major Leagues.

He got a cryptic call informing him he should bring his suitcase to the ballpark, but still didn't know if he'd made the team. For all he knew one of his lucky teammates who had earned a roster spot was in need of luggage.

"Then they called me in and told me that I made the team," Ritchie said. "So it was a very exciting time for me."

So exciting that the usually passive Ritchie put on an uncharacteristic display of exuberance. But not until after leaving the manager's office.

"I've never shown too much emotion," Ritchie said. "I don't know if they thought I really didn't appreciate it or what, but when I got home I did my own little dance."

Trying to decipher who is going up and who is going down is a parlor game that isn't restricted only to members of the media and office workers killing time on Internet message boards. Players work just as hard trying to figure out who's coming and who's going.

"If they're going to take an extra pitcher, I'm going to Triple-A," Harris said. "If they're going to take an extra catcher I'm going to Triple-A. If they're going to take (me), I'm going to Seattle."

And have you ever wondered what players are talking about when they're stretching before a game? Not that different from what everybody else is talking about.

"Today during stretch me and (Tony) Graffanino and (Paul) Konerko and Josh Paul were kind of counting everybody," said Jeff Liefer. "And trying to figure out how many cuts are left and trying to figure out who we thought it was going to be and figure out all the different options. Yeah, we definitely think of that."

Liefer has been on the bubble in the past, making the team in 1999 and getting sent down last year after he thought he had made the team.

Unlike Ritchie, Liefer never was told he made the team three years ago. But he had figured out he was in competition with Chris Singleton and Tilson Brito for the last two roster spots.

"They called in Tilson after the last game and told him he wasn't going to make it," Liefer said. "By process of elimination me and Singleton figured out that we did make it."

Josh Paul is in his fourth straight year of fighting for a spot late in Spring Training, and despite winning a job in 2001 he sees that the odd are against him this year.

"(Josh) said this morning he's kind of planning on Triple-A," Liefer said. "But there's always the possibility they're going to keep three catchers. They've been saying that so that's his hope. I'm a lot like him. If I were in his situation I'd count on the worst and then it can only get better."

The last few days of camp aren't anything like the beginning, when the season still seems far off and a clubhouse is crammed with as many as 50 or 60 players. It can be a lonely place at the end.

Porzio has never made an Opening Day roster but did spend a few weeks with Colorado in 1999. As Monday's moves were announced and Porzio was still standing, Aaron Rowand and Gary Glover -- both of whom he played with last season in the minors -- joined him at his locker.

It's a good thing Porzio still has old friends to talk with because that's not always the case.

"You tend to hang around the guys you played with in the minor leagues before you get to that point," Ritchie said. "Usually by that time all those guys have gone down and you're left with the guys you know are going to be there. (Veterans) kind of tiptoe around you like they don't know if you're going to be here so they don't want to get too close."

Harris has been inundated with phone calls from friends and family members who want the inside scoop on what is going to happen to him. He doesn't know, he tells them.

If only he had slept just a few minutes longer.

"It's been crazy," Harris said. "I try not to worry about it but it's my dream. It's what I work hard for every day so I can't help but worry. I can't help but wonder of what's going to happen. I don't know what's going to happen. What is it, less than a week before the season starts?

"I don't have a clue where I'm going."

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