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FROM MY SEAT: Batting First



I’ve got a quote on my office wall from Rogers Hornsby, the St. Louis Cardinals’ Hall of Fame second baseman and the finest righthanded hitter ever to lace up a pair of spikes: “People ask me what I do in the winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do, I stare out the window and wait for spring.” The Rajah’s spirit is certainly giddy these days, as the dawn of a new baseball season is upon us. In his honor, let’s try and answer nine questions -- we’ll call it a batting order -- for the upcoming season. (1) Can the Arizona Diamondbacks repeat? Only if Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling do...which isn’t likely. The D’Backs are an old team. Key contributors to last year’s champs include Luis Gonzalez (34), Mark Grace (37), Matt Williams (36), and Steve Finley (37). As brilliant as Johnson (38) and Schilling (35) were last year in finishing one-two in the Cy Young race, the law of averages says this team is due a letdown. Now, if they manage to stay healthy and get into the postseason, well, there’s no more deadly a tandem than Arizona’s pair of aces. (2) Can one Jason Giambi equal 11 World Series rings? The Yankees are counting on it. Say what you will about the addition of Rondell White, Robin Ventura, and David Wells. They’re window dressing in George Steinbrenner’s world. The Boss will need the former Oakland MVP to pump out his usual offensive numbers and fill a sizable leadership void left by former Yanks Paul O’Neill, Scott Brosius, and Tino Martinez. (3) Will anybody actually watch Expos baseball? After 33 seasons, Montreal will be playing what amounts to a 162-game swan song. The franchise that gave us Andre Dawson, Gary Carter, Tim Raines, Randy Johnson, Larry Walker, and Steve Rogers (remember him?) will find itself in Washington, D.C. or a victim of contraction come 2003. Been to a Memphis RiverKings game recently? That’s the kind of crowd you’ll see at Olympic Stadium this season. (4) Is there a rookie out there to match last season’s phenoms? Short answer: no. Seattle’s Ichiro Suzuki last season became the first rookie in 26 years to earn MVP honors. St. Louis’ Albert Pujols merely made Mark McGwire expendable. The only name that might approximate this kind of impact in 2002 is San Diego’s rookie third baseman, Sean Burroughs. The son of former American League MVP Jeff Burroughs, Sean hit .322 last year for Portland in the Pacific Coast League. (5) Is there life after Cal, Tony, and Big Mac? You want to find a hotel room near Cooperstown, New York, in the summer of 2007? Better call now. Baseball lost a lot of its spirit with the retirement of these three legends. But let’s be realistic...they were shadows of themselves last season. Barry Bonds has 600 homers in his sights. Randy Johnson is going for a fourth straight Cy Young. The Braves are aiming for an 11th consecutive postseason berth. Baseball will be just fine. (6) Is there a scarier lineup than that of the New York Mets? Roberto Alomar, Edgardo Alfonzo, Jeromy Burnitz, Mo Vaughn, Mike Piazza...yikes. If these five stay healthy and the Mets get reasonable starting pitching, well, the Braves are playing for second. (7) Is Moises Alou the answer for the Cubbies? George Bell (a former MVP) wasn’t. Andre Dawson (an MVP with Chicago) wasn’t. The only way the Cubs avoid another year as “The Sammy Sosa Show” is for Kerry Wood to burst out, injury free, and carry his fellow starters along for the ride. The North Siders better hope for another 20 wins from Jon Lieber. (8) Will anyone hit 74 home runs? Let’s hope not. Barry Bonds was incredible last season, particularly in light of the way he was pitched (he wasn’t). But who cared? Whether it was the personality involved or the proximity to the summer of ‘98, the home run race became ancillary in 2001. It’s a team game, folks. Check the standings. (9) Is there a better place to watch a baseball game than the Wrigley Field bleachers? Absolutely: the leftfield bluff at AutoZone Park. Picnic blankets, toddlers, dads playing catch with sons and daughters, visits from Rockey... and a chance to catch a home run ball every single game. Go Redbirds!

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