Venezuelans want one of their own on major league baseball's Team of the Century -- Luis Aparicio.

Led by President Hugo Chavez, a big baseball fan, the country is waging a last-minute write-in campaign to get the former White Sox shortstop on the team.

"I didn't expect so much enthusiasm over this," Aparicio said, acknowledging that current Venezuelan stars Andres Galarraga and Omar Vizquel have always been bigger favorites at home.

Aparicio, who won nine Gold Gloves and was an excellent base stealer, played on the 1959 White Sox team that made it to the World Series.

In 1984, he became the third Latin American elected to the Hall of Fame following Roberto Clemente of Puerto Rico and Juan Marichal of the Dominican Republic.

Last week, Chavez, who threw out the first pitch at a Mets game this year, cast his vote for Aparicio and urged his countrymen to follow his lead.

"I'm making a call to all Venezuelans to vote for Aparicio," said Chavez, who voted on a laptop computer set up on a baseball field near the presidential palace.

There isn't much time though, with voting to end in less than a week. In results released last week, Aparicio was in sixth place among shortstops with 121,535 votes. Cal Ripken Jr., with 640,995 votes, leads the group in which the top two will be selected to the team.

CONTRACT EXTENSION: The Devil Rays signed Manager Larry Rothschild to a contract extension, one week after extending GM Chuck LaMar's pact through the 2004 season.

Rothschild, 45, was hired as Tampa Bay's first manager in November 1997 after spending the previous three seasons as pitching coach for the Marlins. Before joining the Marlins he had held various coaching positions with the Braves and Reds.

BROSIUS OUT: Yankees 3B Scott Brosius, whose father died Sunday, left the team yesterday to be with his family. Maury Brosius, 55, lost a lengthy fight to colon cancer. After the funeral on Saturday in McMinnville, Ore., Brosius is scheduled to rejoin the Yankees in New York for Tuesday's game against the White Sox.