Sometimes, Mercury Van Lines Manager Ray Ruffing wonders whether he'll have nine players to start the game. Other times, an outfielder may have to pitch because the pitchers -- both of them -- fail to show up.

But the players who do come have plenty of enthusiasm. The members of the eight teams in the 35-year-old Industrial League play for the love of baseball. Many played in college, some have been in the major and minor leagues.

Those at last night's game between Mercury and Battista at Wheaton Regional Park were typical. They wouldn't trade these evenings for anything but a major league contract, and some wouldn't even do that during the players' strike.

"I was there, and I know why the players are doing this," said Chris Hudson, who spent four years with the Baltimore and Seattle organizations. "It's for the benefits for guys in the minors. The owners had it their way for a long time."

"The owners brought this on themselves, and I hope they go bankrupt," Ruffing said. "The players aren't a piece of property, and they should be paid for their talent. It is getting so you can't afford to take your family to the game anymore."

None of the players interviewed sided with the owners, but some had reservations about the players' position and said they would replace the strikers if asked.

"I can sympathize with the players, but they make so much money I don't know how they can complain," said Battista outfielder Steve Conroy, who played at Prince George's Community College and Catholic University.

"If they called me, I would go play, regardless of the strike situation. Baseball is fun, and I love the game. We all love it, or we wouldn't be out here playing for nothing."

Phil Warner, a catcher at George Mason who may sign a free-agent contract with the Milwaukee Brewers this weekend, said he would jump at the opportunity to play in the majors.

"I love to play, and I'm willing to do what it takes to get that chance," said Warner, who plays for Mercury. "I know that's their job, but right now money doesn't make any difference to most of us. We just play for the love of the game."

Several players who have had their major league chances disagreed.

"Everyone dreams of the majors someday. I was hoping to go as a free agent, but I didn't get signed," said Lou Klepec, formerly of Wakefield High and American University, playing his fourth season for Battista.

"I'm 23 now, and there are guys in the majors younger than I am. I don't think I would go if the Orioles called me. I understand what the players are going through, and they should make all the money they can. I really sympathize with them, although I'll miss the games."

"I'm 26 now, and I was cut April 7 from the Orioles," said Hudson, who attended Suitland High School and the University of Maryland. "This was the third time in four years that I was the last guy let go. I don't think I could go through that again.

"You bust your butt thinking you got a job, and then they drop you. There is more to baseball than glamor; there is a cold side, too. I still can and want to play baseball, that is why I'm out here. A lot of these kids want to go where I've been, and I can help them."