Spring is in
Baseball season is officially here: Spring training begins
Posted: Friday February 18, 2000 02:34 AM
All across Arizona and Florida, teams started breaking out bats and balls Thursday. Fifteen weeks and one day after the final out of the World Series, spring training began.
"We should be optimistic," Seattle Mariners manager Lou Piniella said in Peoria, Ariz., echoing the thoughts of his 29 colleagues.
Opening Day is six weeks away, and all teams are 0-0 -- even the New York Yankees, coming off their third World Series title in four years.
"This is as good as I've felt, to be honest with you," manager Joe Torre, who had prostate cancer surgery during camp last year, said in Tampa, Fla. "I never felt bad going into spring training last year, but I feel better this year."
The New York Mets and Chicago Cubs were given permission to open their camps five days early because they start the season five days ahead of everyone else -- opening on March 29 with a two-game series in the Tokyo Dome.
For the hapless Cubs, without a World Series title since 1908, there was an extra reason to be optimistic Thursday: Kerry Wood, more relaxed than his first time out this spring, threw 32 pitches during a six-minute workout from the mound in his comeback from reconstructive elbow surgery.
Wood, the 1998 NL Rookie of the Year, won't throw breaking pitches until next month. On Thursday, he estimated the velocity of his best fastballs in the low 90s.
"The biggest thing was that I was pain free and I let a few go and I had more velocity on it than I had Monday. I felt great," Wood said in Mesa, Ariz. "I haven't had a radar reading since the 1998 season, so it's been too long for me to be able to tell how hard I'm throwing. But you know, if I had to guess, I'd say 92 or 91 somewhere."
Even teams coming off bad stretches were feeling good.
While the Detroit Tigers finished 27 1/2 games behind the Cleveland Indians in 1999, new manager Phil Garner doesn't care about last year.
"We're going to beat Cleveland," Garner said Thursday in Lakeland, Fla. "They're vulnerable. I used to look at them and say, 'How does anybody beat them?' But we're better and they're vulnerable."
Last year, the eight postseason teams all were among baseball's eight biggest spenders, but Cincinnati and Oakland showed the little guys have a chance by staying in races until late September.
The Reds are in the spotlight this spring following their acquisition of Ken Griffey Jr. from Seattle last week.
"Now that we have Junior, I think expectations are going to skyrocket," pitcher Steve Parris said in Sarasota, Fla. "I think as long as we keep the same level head everybody had last year and do our jobs, I don't see any reason why we can't do the same thing again."
The Los Angeles Dodgers will be in the spotlight, too, after finishing 77-85, third in the NL West.
A year ago at this time, the Dodgers were talking big. They had signed right-handed ace Kevin Brown to a record $105 million, seven-year contract and expected to finish first.
"The team's just real eager, I can tell that," Dodgers reliever Dan Naulty, who appeared in 33 games for the Yankees last season, said in Vero Beach, Fla.
In Jupiter, Fla., the St. Louis Cardinals were awaiting Monday's arrival of Mark McGwire, who had 65 home runs last season after hitting a record 70 in 1998.
"I predict we stink," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said, "because everything I say, the opposite happens."
Despite an overhauled pitching staff, a new leadoff hitter (Fernando Vina) and the return of a formidable infield, La Russa knows it won't be easy to win the NL Central.
"You have to respect the team which has won it the past three years," he said. "Houston has made this a tough division, and last year Cincinnati got 96 wins."