BASEBALL: A TIME FOR RHYME The crack of a bat, the slap of a mitt, Opening Day is upon us, lets pitch, lets hit! What to expect, for whom do we cheer? New teams for new faces . . . some we held dear. A-Rods a Yankee, Maddux a Cub, Do the rich get richer, or is there a rub? Clemens in Houston? J.D. Drew a Brave? Its up to Mr. Pujols, Cardinal Nation to save. Lets start in the National League, East as it were, The world champion Marlins should create quite a stir. Fourteen years its been since the Braves werent on top, Billy Wagner in Philly will have the Joneses to stop. The NL Central a two-team race, Cubs and Astros? The Cardinals appear, alas, to have a leak in their hose. Starting pitching wins you rings, Mr. Pettitte has four, Reds, Brewers, Pirates . . . denied at the door. The NL West still has Bonds, Helton, the Big Unit, If this sport were a guitar, Felipe Alou could sure tune it. David Wells is a Padre and older than the Dodgers GM, His only drug, Barry claims, is his Tylenol PM. The AL East, by George, now thats a two-team battle. Schilling and Pedro, on these horses, Bostons saddle. Tino! Tino! Cry the Yankee fans for their hero, The Cards contract to Martinez, it seems, should have lost a zero. Pudge is now catching Detroits eager staff, The Twins are AL Central corn, though, the Tigers merely chaff. Ordonez, Beltran, Mientkiewicz, and Hunter, These stars are worth watching, on most radars . . . way under. Best division in baseball? AL West is my choice, With Guerrero an Angel, Anaheim should run like a Royce. The As with their pitching, the Ms with Suzuki, The Rangers? Without A-Rod, theyre looking like . . . dookie. Eck and Molly are heading to the Hall, As for Charlie Hustle . . . he had a great fall! My Prison Walls? Cmon Pete, smell the roses, For liars and cheats, Pinocchios nose is. Can the Marlins repeat their glorious run? Becketts back, as is Lowell, even minus Pudge . . . should be fun. And as for those Yankees, Murderers Row yes indeed, But in a five-game series, pitching overcomes greed. What of our Redbirds, Season Seven on deck, Haynes, Gall, and Seabol are back last I checked. Big Adam Wainwright has an arm well worth watching, Might dupe the success of Jason Simontacchi. Haren, Journell, Memphis pitchers under the scope, Cardinal fortunes in St. Louis are with young arms, they hope. Danny Sheaffer returns to captain this ship, The whole coaching staff happily retained for the trip. A new ballpark in St. Louis, set to open in 06, Mid-market economics, the new yard cannot fix. With Pujols newly signed, thoughts are with Renteria, For homers and sluggers are no panacea. On the subject of sluggers, theres none better than Sammy, With pitchers galore, Wrigley Fields double-whammy. And as for those Astros, forty-plus with no pennant, Biggio and Bagwell, three words will suffice: Lets win it! Six months till the playoffs, 30 teams, but eight slots. Come the dog days of August, well count the best shots. Till then, find your team and pull for them hard, Buy a bobblehead, or at least a bubble-gum card. Baseball is back, winter done, the only gloves leather, Time for green grass, Cracker Jack, sunny weather. So embrace your team, your player, the box score, For come late October, youll be wishing for more.