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Baseball
Tim Crothers
April 13, 1998
Local Heroes
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April 13, 1998

Baseball

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First the Party, Then the Hangover
There's nothing baseball fans love more than Opening Day--and little they like less than the second game of the season. Consider these attendance figures for teams that opened at home last week.

TEAM

GAME 1

GAME 2

DIFFERENCE

Reds

54,578

13,706

40,872

Mets

49,142

13,591

35,551

Mariners

57,822

24,523

33,299

Astros

43,776

13,719

30,057

Athletics

36,915

7,313

29,602

Twins

43,848

18,589

25,259

Expos

31,220

6,396

24,824

Marlins

41,126

16,877

24,249

Cardinals

47,972

27,414

20,558

Blue Jays

41,387

25,584

15,803

Devil Rays

45,369

30,109

15,260

Cubs

39,102

25,436

13,666

Angels

43,311

29,899

13,412

Rangers

45,909

32,663

13,246

Braves

42,891

29,671

13,220

Orioles

46,820

38,623

8,197

Diamondbacks

47,484

43,758

3,726

Source: Elias Sports Bureau

Local Heroes

I never expected us to finish the season 162-0," said third baseman Wade Boggs, after the expansion Devil Rays lost their opening game on March 31. "I was thanking more like 160-2." While Tampa Bay started the season 4-2 and was two games ahead of the mighty Yankees in the American League East through Sunday, the most significant impact of the franchise's inaugural season will not be in the standings—but in the stands.

Boggs, 39, said last week that he didn't see a regulation major league game in person until the day he made his debut with the Red Sox when he was 23 years old. Devil Rays first baseman Fred McGriff didn't witness his first regulation major league game until he was a 22-year-old first baseman with the Blue Jays. When Boggs and McGriff were growing up in Tampa, the nearest major league stadium was in Atlanta, 458 miles away.

Reared just four blocks from Al Lopez Field, where the Reds staged spring training, McGriff became a Cincinnati fan. He had no baseball icons, nobody he emulated while swinging a bat in his backyard. His only Tampa sports hero was quarterback Doug Williams of the Buccaneers.

Boggs remembers rooting for the Athletics and says as a kid his favorite player was the Reds' Pete Rose. "We had to find our baseball heroes elsewhere," Boggs says, "because we didn't have anybody local to call our own."

So while each of the 25 Devil Rays enjoyed making history last week, it was a particularly proud moment for McGriff and Boggs. Until the team's opener, McGriff's last official baseball game in Tampa had been with his Jefferson High team in 1981. "Getting a baseball team in Tampa has been a long time coming, but now we're on the map," McGriff said after the opener. "Now kids can grow up hoping someday to be Tampa Bay Devil Rays. They have idols right in front of them."

Tribe Pitching Woes
It Takes Hart to Build a Rotation

One day in the middle of March, Indians general manager John Hart telephoned Reds G.M. Jim Bowden to ask if he might be interested in trading righthander Dave Burba, Cincinnati's projected Opening Day starter. Bowden was skeptical, but the two exchanged about 30 phone calls during the ensuing two weeks. Finally, Hart agreed to deal Cleveland's top hitting prospect, first baseman Sean Casey, for Burba, who was only 21 hours from taking the mound at Cinergy Field. Burba was the final item in an off-season shopping spree during which Hart acquired 17 pitchers in trying to piece together a staff.

After leading the American League in ERA in '95 and '96, Cleveland struggled in '97, using 14 starters and dropping to ninth in the league in team ERA (4.73). The starters combined for a 60-53 record and a 4.90 ERA, prompting Hart's reconstruction campaign. "We wanted pitching depth, so we took some gambles," he says. "Then we became the victims of Murphy's Law."

Hart began the off-season by choosing not to re-sign free-agent righthanders Orel Hershiser and Jack McDowell, two expensive and aging former stars. The Tribe also lost two pitchers, Brian Anderson and Albie Lopez, in the Nov. 18 expansion draft. Then, on Dec. 8, after failing to lure free agents Darryl Kile and Andy Benes, Hart traded centerfielder Marquis Grissom to the Brewers for righthander Ben McDonald and signed free-agent righthander Dwight Gooden to join rotation holdovers Charles Nagy, Jaret Wright and Chad Ogea. After it was determined that McDonald needed shoulder surgery and would miss the entire season, Hart sent him back to Milwaukee and got Mark Watson, who had never pitched in the majors. Then Ogea's left knee locked up in spring training, requiring surgery that will keep him out until mid-April. Two other candidates to join the rotation, righthanders Bartolo Colon and Steve Karsay, put up spring ERAs over 6.00. Finally, on March 30, Gooden was tuning up for his first start of the season when he felt stiffness in his right shoulder and landed on the 15-day disabled list. That was the day Hart pulled the trigger on the Burba deal.

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