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In a league with fantasy

6-5-02, 12:05 a.m.

The pros have fantasies, too.

Bengals Pro Bowler Corey Dillon lived one out Tuesday during the final death throes of Cinergy Field. Todd Walker and Adam Dunn, two all-stars from the Reds' marvelous first-half run, lockered next to one hours before the first pitch of a big series with the Cardinals.

It seems that Walker and Dunn had Dillon on their fantasy football team last year. Dunn, the former Texas quarterback who handed Dillon everything out of his locker except a football, couldn't resist.

"Hey," Dunn said to Dillon as the running back settled into the locker next to Walker. "He didn't want to play you against the Ravens, by the way."

Everybody laughed. Right after Barry Larkin mouthed, "Watch this," just before offering Dillon his tiny training glove to take to the field.

"My daughter couldn't even get her hand into that," said Dillon, and everybody laughed again.

No one laughed after Dillon took some hellacious swings for the first time since 1994. That's when he dabbled briefly and finally with baseball at junior college, a year after the Padres drafted him as an outfielder when he hit .562 and 11 homers for Franklin High School in Seattle. He gave up the game when his lack of patience, better suited for fourth-and-four, rebuffed the scouts' overtures to change his swing.

"To tell you the truth," said Dunn when he was asked about Dillon's performance, "not bad. (Colts running back) Edgerrin James did the same thing in the minors with us and he was pretty terrible."

That cold war between the Reds and Bengals? If "The Wedge," site for the new baseball park was the Berlin Wall, then let them come to Cinergy Field.

Last month, the Bengals allowed the Reds' Ken Griffey Jr., to rehab his

knee in the Paul Brown Stadium underwater treadmill. On Tuesday, the Reds allowed Dillon to massage his dream of playing pro ball with a turn at batting practice.

Dillon's musings reached Jack Brennan, the Bengals public relations director who chronicled the Reds 1990 world championship for "The Cincinnati Enquirer." The idea stirred the baseball scribe living in Brennan and he called his opposite number at the Reds, the ever-helpful Rob Butcher, and the deed was done and Tuesday was the date.

Dillon, the last running back to have a 100-yard game and 200-yard game at Cinergy, became the last one (and most likely the first) to also hit the left-field foul pole during batting practice.

"I was nervous," Dillon admitted after going deep off Reds coach Tim Foli. "But I would have been a lot more nervous if the guys weren't so nice to me. I mean, they were great to me."

Larkin, a Cincinnati institution, has long followed the Bengals. Both were born here in the mid-1960s and while he starred for Moeller High School's football power and the Michigan coaches tried to sweet talk him over from the baseball team into free safety, he followed the fortunes of Sam, Kenny, J.B., Pete Johnson and Boomer.

"This should happen more often," Larkin said. When Dillon left, Larkin told him, "Come back again."

In fact, on Tuesday Larkin seemed to have the best time of everybody. He talked Dillon into taking some grounders at shortstop and when Dillon flexed his muscles in the cage (he also hit the wall in left-center field at the 375-foot sign), Larkin kidded Dillon about sneaking out a few days ago and practicing at some batting cages.

"I wasn't going to get right in front of those grounders. They were really moving and I didn't want one to chip my tooth," Dillon said of a tentative outing in the field. "I'm out there with no equipment."

But he was outfitted in official Reds' B.P. garb. Larkin made sure he got the black pullover and Dunn made sure he had everything else. With clubhouse legends Bernie and Rick Stowe taking care of Dillon's every whim, Rick admitted he didn't have "anybody in here," who resembled Dillon's 6-2, 225-pound dimensions.

The 6-5, 240-pound Dunn came close. With Dillon struggling to find big enough shoes, Dunn dug some out of his locker and then gave him a pair of his baseball pants. He fired him over some wrist bands. He also gave Dillon the bat he ended up using, which looked to be a Cliff Floyd size 35 model.

"You want my jock, too?" Dunn asked with a laugh.

"What size?" shot back a smiling Dillon.

If Larkin had the best time, Dunn might have had the most nostalgic. Even with the biggest series of the year looming in three hours out there in the damp-collar humid June night, Dunn admitted, "Football is the best time of year. I can't wait for it to start."

For Dunn, who walked away from football when playing quarterback wasn't an option, there is no question about what is the hardest thing to do.

"Hitting a baseball is the hardest thing to do in sports," Dunn said. "There's no doubt about that. You have to be almost perfect to hit a baseball."

Dillon raised a hand at his locker.

"That's why I'm doing what I do," Dillon said.

"He'll do fine," Dunn said. "It's not that hard. It's just batting practice."

Dillon hit with the extra players, like Reggie Taylor, Juan Castro and Corky Miller. He got about eight swings in two sessions and Foli had him back on his heels by blowing the first couple past him. Dillon then pursed his lips, slashed a liner inside the third-base line, and hit the 375-foot sign before lofting a shot halfway up the foul pole.

"Your boy swings the bat pretty well," said Reds announcer Marty Brennaman as he leaned on the batting cage, a Hall-of-Fame play-by-play man calling the action of a future Pro Football Hall-of-Famer.

The second session produced a few fouls and grounders, but Dillon had his shot.

"That's all I really wanted to do," Dillon said. "Just hit one out. He threw me a hanging slider," which is all they throw in B.P.

Reds first baseman Sean Casey, who urged Dillon to gun for the black tarp hanging in the outfield, had his scouting report in order.

"I thought he looked good. Great bat speed. Maybe he can come over and pinch hit or DH for us," Casey said. "He was a little nervous, but once he got his timing down, he was fine. It was interesting to see. I'm a big fan. Sometimes he hasn't had the players around him, but he always has that instinct to make something happen. He's a playmaker."

Dillon is pretty sure he can't make the plays the Reds do and they can't rip off a 96-yard run like he did in Detroit last year. But he just wanted to try it.

"The Reds are a class organization," Dillon said after taking a picture with Butcher's P.R. staff. "That was one of my dreams, also to be a professional ballplayer. To actually get out there and mingle with the guys, I can put that little dream to rest."

Dunn also has a little dream. He talked to Brennan about a trade. What about Dunn coming over to PBS to throw some balls?

"It's OK with me," Dillon said. "Throw a few routes. Throw a few passes."

Even the pros have fantasies.

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