They sifted quietly into the Dodger clubhouse Friday morning, searching for their new lockers, looking for familiar faces.
The usual clubhouse chatter signifying the opening of spring training was absent. In its place were awkward silence and uneasy smiles.
"It feels so weird being here right now," said Dave Staton, who opened last season as the San Diego Padres' starting first baseman. "Everybody's so quiet. It's hush-hush.
"You don't know if you're sitting next to a guy who's a strong union supporter like myself, or a guy who's a scab, and that creates uneasiness.
"I mean, everyone knows they're here. When a guy hasn't played for four years, and he's suddenly in camp, it doesn't take a genius to figure out why. It's just that everyone is trying to figure out who's who."
The Dodgers proudly proclaim that none of the 85 players in camp have signed replacement contracts.
Yet, they already have assembled half of their replacement team. Sixteen players have made private arrangements to become strikebreakers, enabling them to earn a $5,000 signing bonus, $755 a week during the spring, and at least $9,583 a week during the season.
Relief pitcher Miguel Alicea became the first of the 16 players to publicly reveal his intention. Alicea, who earned $8,000 a month pitching the last four years in Terron, Mexico, supports a wife and four children.
"I want to be in the big leagues any way I can," said Alicea, who saved 39 games last season in the Mexican League. "I don't think people should have a problem with it. My friends in Puerto Rico tell me, 'Go ahead.'
"This might be my only chance, so I have to do it."
The 15 other potential strikebreakers will remain anonymous, if they choose, until March 2, when the Dodgers open their exhibition schedule against the New York Yankees. The union announced that it will consider anyone playing in spring training games a scab.
"I guess that will be the moment of truth," said outfielder Rick Parker, 31, who spent parts of the last four seasons in the major leagues. "It's a big decision, a huge decision. You're going to alienate a lot of people by telling them what you're going to do.
"All I'm going to say is that in this game, you've got to look out for No. 1. If you look over your shoulder and worry about what others think, you've got problems.
"I'm sorry, but that's the way it's got to be."
Parker, a childhood friend of union activist David Cone, realizes that he--should he choose to defy the union--and others will be ostracized the moment their intentions become known. Yet, the Dodgers have promised to protect their privacy until then, treating them officially as minor league players.
"I told them that the Dodgers view them as minor league players who are preparing for a season," said Fred Claire, executive vice president. "I don't think anybody is really clear on when they are officially considered replacement players, but only when that time comes will we have to deal with the issue.
"We're just going to field the best team we can, because they're only going to give us one major league season."
If the start of spring was any indication, the fans at Dodgertown showed that their support has barely waned. A crowd of 300 applauded the players throughout the day, requested autographs and thanked them for showing up when practice ended.
"To me, this is better than if the major leaguers were here," said Ralph Bossone of Providence, R.I. "I'm sick of those million-dollar crybabies. You ask me, they'll play better than the major leaguers too, because they're hungry."
Said Bob Filippone: "I don't give a heck whether the major leaguers come back or not. People say, 'Oh, they're all no-name guys.' So what? I'll get to know their names just like the major leaguers."
Still, there was apprehension, most of it emanating from the clubhouse. Players may fulfill their dreams of wearing a big league uniform but many say it will be a hollow satisfaction.
"It's like waiting for Christmas without opening the presents," said center fielder Scott Pose, who had the first hit for the expansion Florida Marlins in 1993.
Infielder Casey Candaele, who played 716 major league games during seven seasons, said, "I've always dreamed of being a Dodger, but I just can't do it. I've already drawn the line where I'm going to go. The anxiety I felt last night was unbelievable."
Candaele, the Houston Astros' player representative for four seasons, easily is the most recognizable name in camp. He was surrounded by reporters and TV cameras all day. Yet, he asked aloud, how could he dare cross the picket line when his father--who died last week--was a union electrical worker?
"I couldn't tarnish my dad's memory by doing that," Candaele said. "I've always wanted to be a Dodger, but I could not look at my kids and say, 'Yeah, I played for the Dodgers. I was a scab.'
"Even if the union called me now, and said, 'You're hurting our cause just by being in camp,' I'd sacrifice and back out. I'd go play in Taiwan if I had to."
Similar feelings apparently led to Detroit Tiger Manager Sparky Anderson's decision not to manage replacement players. He was granted an unpaid leave of absence and left camp.
"I'm sorry to see him go out in this fashion," Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda said. "That's not right. But you won't see me do that.
"My allegiance is to this ballclub. I have a responsibility, an obligation and a commitment to manage the Dodgers. I'll manage 25 players no matter what they give me.
"It's still baseball. You still have nine innings, three outs to a side, and the mound is 60 feet 6 inches away from home plate.
"I'm not saying it's going to be the same, and I'm very disappointed my guys aren't here, because I miss them.
"But the game is too big for them to stop it.
"You look around, and we proved that today."