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BASEBALL IS BACK AS OWNERS OK PLAYER `PITCH'

Baseball is back!

Owners accepted the players' back-to-work offer Sunday, never even taking a lockout vote that would have prevented real major leaguers from reporting to spring training camps."It feels good to talk about the season starting, talking about baseball. We are back and will open April 26," acting commissioner Bud Selig said. "It's not anything I want to go through again."

"The clubs hope that the 1995 season - including the postseason - will be played without interruption," Selig said. "We hope our fans never again have to go through the heartache we've endured the last eight months."

Reached at his home in Rye Brook, N.Y., union head Don Fehr said:

"I think it's clearly a step in the right direction. If they had voted for a lockout, it would have been a clear indication they didn't want peace - at any price."

Fehr said the voluntary reporting date for spring training camps will be Wednesday, with a mandatory reporting date of Friday.

Still to be resolved in the back-to-work agreement are matters such as dates for reoffering contracts, salary arbitration filing and other issues. Lawyers for both sides were in contact throughout the day.

Asked when contract negotiations would resume, Fehr said he expected to be contacted by Selig after the meeting.

Players ended their strike Friday after U.S. District Judge Sonia Sotomayor slapped owners with an injunction and restored the old work rules.

A hearing is scheduled Tuesday before the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on the owners' motion for a stay of the injunction and an expedited appeal.

Teams were told to release all their replacement players by 11:59 p.m. EST Saturday night, although some strikebreakers stayed on and signed minor-league contracts. Some were bitter.

"The owners got a high fast ball under the chin and their knees buckled," said Billy Faultz, a replacement pitcher with the Cincinnati Reds. "That's about the way I feel about it."

Under the tentative agreement, each team would play 144 games,18 fewer than the original schedule. That would result in the cancellation of the season's first 252 games, raising the total number of games wiped out by the strike to 921.

This marks the third time opening day was pushed back by a work stoppage. A strike is 1972 delayed it from April 1 to April 15, and a lockout in 1990 pushed it back from April 2 to April 9.

Regulars would have just three weeks of workouts under the schedule being discussed, the same as in 1990.

Boston Red Sox general manager Dan Duquette said teams were hoping to start exhibition games on April 13.

The decision to release all the replacement players was made so owners didn't commit Sunday to paying $25,000 bonuses to each of the 32 replacements on each of the 28 teams, a total of $22.4 million.

"It felt like it was our money already," said Tim Dell, a replacement pitcher with the Milwaukee Brewers. "The closer it got to opening day, the more we thought it was our money and the more it felt like if we didn't get it, they were taking it from us."