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MJ is the talk of Sarasota

From the archives: Michael Jordan’s arrival at White Sox spring training creates a sensation.

Michael Jordan works on his batting on the first day of White Sox spring training camp Saturday, Feb. 18, 1995, in Sarasota, Fla.
Michael Jordan works on his batting on the first day of White Sox spring training camp Saturday, Feb. 18, 1995, in Sarasota, Fla.
Pat Sullivan/AP

Originally published February 13, 1994.

SARASOTA, Fla. — The video cameras are out in force and the autograph hounds are combing the streets, all searching for a glimpse of the phantom in cleats.

Yep, Kilroy is here.

Johnny Kilroy, that is, a.k.a. Michael Jordan, a.k.a. the best marketing device to hit Sarasota since suntan oil.

“Everyone just wants to touch him or something,” said a manager of In Extremis nightclub, where Jordan danced with the regulars until 2:30 a.m. Friday. “He’s given us the kind of advertising you can’t pay for.”

Jordan, one of 13 non-roster players the White Sox have invited to spring training, officially begins his improbable baseball career Tuesday, when he will work out at the Sarasota Sports Complex before meeting the media once again.

But Jordan has been in this baseball-crazy retirement community since Wednesday, by all reports, and his presence has sent normally sedate Sarasota into a star-struck frenzy.

Naturally, Jordan’s workouts have been conducted under maximum security. But that didn’t stop a television station in St. Petersburg from hiring a helicopter to fly over Ed Smith Stadium.

The camera crew aboard hovered over the infield and managed to film Jordan sliding into second base, but as soon as the culprits were spotted, practice was moved indoors.

Sources say the Sox have filed a complaint against the station, but a representative at Channel 10 in St. Petersburg said he knows nothing of such an objection. Sox officials could not be reached for comment.

So what has Jordan done since arriving at the genesis of his new career? Well, he pretty much has acted like a guy on vacation.

On Wednesday, he stopped by the Sports Page Bar and Grille, where he sipped on ginger ale and shot a few games of pool with friends.

“A super nice guy,” bartender Wayne Rentmeester said. “(Sox general manager Ron) Schueler called ahead to make sure there wasn’t a mob scene, and he came in the back door. It worked out great.”

Oh, and while he was at the bar, Jordan set up a golf date with another bartender. And speaking of golf, Jordan already has played at one local course and has been rumored to have played at the prestigious Long Boat Key Club.

“Nope, he hasn’t been here,” a golf pro requesting anonymity said. “One of the higher-ups said he was supposed to stay here, but our biggest room is 2,200 square feet. Jordan wanted 8,000.”

Jordan’s residence in Sarasota remains a mystery, prompting local realtors to field many calls from fans requesting details. But Jordan has hardly been a hermit.

One of the many sightings occurred at the Outback Steakhouse, where one of Rentmeester’s friends is employed.

“He called me the next day and said, `You’ll never guess who was in here last night,’ “ Rentmeester said. “Everyone is talking about Michael Jordan, wondering where he’ll show up next.”

Jordan’s most conspicuous appearance, however, was at In Extremis, where the manager claims Jordan sipped on draft beer and danced until closing time.

“He was not signing autographs,” the manager said. “But he was receptive to everyone, in a real good mood. And every time he moved, the whole crowd moved with him.”

Anything else?

“Oh, yeah,” the manager said. “He was bragging that Charles Barkley doesn’t draw this much attention.”

Not a chance, even in retirement.