By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Today, Jordan will go back to left field to play. The crowd here in Chandler seems smaller than that of Friday night. The attendance figure given is 2,423. That seems high to me. Today, of course, there is competition from college football on television and the Arizona State homecoming game.
In the first inning, Jordan fields a drive that bounces off the left-field fence and throws to the cutoff man holding the runner at second base. One of the things that baseball people marvel at is that Jordan always seems to do the right thing with the ball in the outfield. He always throws it to the right place.
Here at Compadre Stadium, the stands end at third base.
There are no seats that would permit fans to sit in left field and observe him up close as most would like to do.
I thought Jordan appeared tentative in right field the night before at Scottsdale. But now he seems more at home in left. Late in the first inning, he easily makes a one-handed catch on a high fly. There is no hesitation. He shows lots of confidence.
In the second inning, Jordan steps from the dugout and begins to swing his bat to warm up while a teammate is at bat. Jordan seems terribly intent. He is so intent, in fact, that I wonder if he is even aware of what his teammate is doing at the plate or what kind of stuff the opposing pitcher has.
"Now batting, Michael Jordan of the Chicago White Sox organization," the field announcer says. The crowd cheers enthusiastically.
On the third pitch, Jordan taps the ball foul down the third-base line. But then, halfway to third, the ball rolls inside the line and is fair. Jordan had stood there watching the ball. Now he takes off, racing to first. But the third baseman throws Jordan out in a close play at first.
The people in the crowd are apparently satisfied that they have seen Jordan now. I notice there is a huge line at the refreshment stand and at the places selling souvenirs. These lines will remain constant throughout the afternoon.
As the game moves on at a swift pace, Jordan makes several good catches in the outfield. He has not made an error in the outfield since the first night of the fall season, when he made two.
After the game, Jordan sat in the third-base dugout and answered questions from sportswriters around the country. They were in town to cover the Dallas Cowboys-Arizona Cardinals game on Sunday.
He was asked if other players expressed any resentment because he was getting so much playing time.
"Everything I've heard has been positive," Jordan said. "The other players realize I'm here to work hard and to do whatever it takes to get better. I realize they are all better than me and I'm here to learn from them. What I did in basketball doesn't matter. I'm low man on the totem pole here."
But I have to wonder. To me the scenario is that the order has come from the top that Jordan will play every day.
The White Sox have a big stake in him. Reinsdorf, the owner, wants him in a Chicago uniform next season--if there is a next season.
Sunday morning at Scottsdale.
Two hours before the game with Tempe is to begin, Terry Francona, the Scottsdale manager, stands behind the batting cage watching his players take practice swings.
"I don't think there's one player out here who you could say was a lock to play in the major leagues," says Francona. "But Michael sure is improving. We'll just have to see how far he goes. He's really gotten a lot better since the start of the season in Birmingham.
"This is a good situation for him. Sometimes, if you don't hit .300, you get released. Our whole object is to see how Michael improves and to see if he can really help the club down the road in Chicago. It doesn't matter what he hit in Birmingham or here. We're looking to the future. "His arm will be okay, but it needs to improve. He's still improving. That's part of the whole thing. He has to keep working hard. He knows that. I have never seen anybody work as hard as he does.
"That's why people are so drawn to him. I like to watch him play myself. I find all of this very interesting."
I go upstairs to the press box and start typing notes into my computer before the game begins.
There are the quotes from Michael himself, who does not speak like a normal professional athlete. He has an odd, almost regal view of himself. He is polite, but there is a wide gulf he maintains with anyone he doesn't know. You can't blame him for that. A cottage industry has grown up around Jordan. Books and magazine articles have made substantial sums for writers not under the control of Jordan's agent. I am sure this is money that worthy gentleman wants to prevent from escaping from the bank vault.