New baseball season promises more of the same
By Wade Denniston
Fresh roasted peanuts, hot dogs with all the fixin's, ice cold beer, sunflower seeds galore, the Green Monster in Fenway Park, the ivy-covered outfield wall in Wrigley Field, Tiger Stadium . . .
Ah, the gems of our National Pastime. Baseball is here again, and with opening day Sunday, can we look forward to another season as magical as last year's? Probably not, but we'll give it a try.
There will be no replacing the neck-and-neck home run race between St. Louis Cardinal slugger Mark McGwire and Chicago's beloved son, Cubs right fielder Sammy Sosa, who trails only Michael Jordan in popularity in the Windy City.
There will be no replacing the Cubs' flamethrower, Kerry Wood, who in his rookie season tied Roger Clemens' major-league baseball record by recording 20 strikeouts in a one-hit mastery of the Houston Astros. Five nights later, Wood struck out 13 more batters in a 4-2 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks, establishing an MLB record for the most strikeouts in consecutive games at 33. There will be no replacing Cal Ripken Jr.'s consecutive games played streak,which ended at 2,632. The only reason it did end, as most of us know, is that Ripken took himself out of the lineup just before the next scheduled started.
There will be no replacing the accomplishments of the World Champion New York Yankees, who won 114 regular-season games and a total of 125 games. Or will there be? Popular consesus seems to think so
As for those Yankees, let's call them Michael Jordan's Bulls. Let's call them John Wooden's UCLA Bruins. Let's call them George Halas' Monsters of the Midway. Let's call them all these things, because come October, when everything is on the line, the Yankees are as close to a sure thing as you get in sports.
Call Las Vegas right now and place all bets on the Yanks, who definitely repeat as champs, and will continue to do so unless George Steinbrenner pulls a Jerry Krause (Bulls owner) and dismantles the team. The Yanks are loaded from top to bottom and with the addition of Clemens, what ball club is going to want to face these New Yorkers in pinstripes? American League East foe Baltimore? Doubt it. The Orioles' payroll of $82 million may bring them a few games closer to the Yankees, who were 35 games ahead of the O's at season's end last year, but it certainly won't bring them a division title.
Cleveland? Just forget the Indians and the AL Central. Maybe if we combined each team's wins, they could catch the Yankees, but that still may be unlikely. While Sports Illustrated predicts the Indians to be the second-best team in baseball this year, behind the Yanks of course, the rest of the division doesn't have a prayer, with three of the remaining four teams ranked 24th or worse.
Perhaps the only team that might be able to overtake the Yankees are the Atlanta Braves, and they will have to come in the World Series. Ted Turner's team will once again have familiar faces on the mound in the likes of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Kevin Millwood. The team added Bruce Chen, a rookie, into the mix. In addition, the Braves acquired Otis Nixon, Bret Boone and Brian Jordan to solidify their defense and batting. Baseballs should be flying out of the parks with these new faces, thrown into the arleady powerful lineup that includes Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones, Ryan Klesko and Javy Lopez. Come October, look for the Braves and Yankees to hook up in the World Series, which would be a rematch of 1996.
The result will be the same, though, with the Yankees winning it all. The Yankees will give us reason to watch baseball this year, to see if they can surpass what they accomplished last season. Furthermore, the 1999 version of McGwire vs. Sosa will also give viewers another season to remember.
So, in the words of Michael Buffer, sports and entertainment announcer, "Let's get ready to rumble."