April 4, 2002

Exploring the Possibilities

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Spring is here. Oh, the notorious Ithaca weather may say otherwise, but make no mistake, spring is here.

Baseball season has arrived. The players are on the field. The fans are in the stands. A new season has begun.

It’s a new season with hopes, fears, and excitement. Anything’s possible.

And to show just how possible anything is, I direct your attention to Montreal, Quebec, which may have just seen its last Opening Day ever. The Expos fans, who are on the Canadian government’s endangered species list, came out in numbers that Olympic Stadium hasn’t seen since last season’s opening day. The Expos drew 34,351 fans, which is more than the Red Sox drew for their opener (okay, Fenway’s capacity is too small to beat that number).

But if the Expos can win a game, and they can draw 34 thousand fans, then anything’s possible.

Things like a new home run record. They said McGwire’s 70 would stand for a lifetime, but it didn’t. Now they say Bonds’s 73 will stand for years. But Bonds jacked two on Opening Day, so who knows? Anything’s possible.

As sportswriter Thomas Boswell once said, time begins on Opening Day. And when you start time anew, new things happen. Old things happen, too.

Day One of the season saw Pedro and Clemens get shelled. Day One also saw Randy Johnson and Bartolo Colon toss outstanding shutouts.

Sure, things change, but things stay the same too. That’s the nature of life, and it’s definitely the nature of baseball.

Day One saw Bonds hit two home runs, but Day One also saw Twins outfielder Jacque Jones hit two home runs.

Design the home run chase graphics now, ESPN. That projects to 324 dingers this season for Jacque Jones.

Of course, that’s about as likely as the Cornell Hockey Discussion Forum staying on-topic. Then again, anything’s possible.

This season is very different from past seasons. Cal Ripken isn’t wearing Baltimore’s black and orange. Tony Gwynn isn’t swinging sweetly in San Diego.

Then again, this season is very much like past seasons. Rickey Henderson is still in the major leagues. Jose Canseco still can’t get a team to keep him.

Still, he almost got the Expos to. And there’s always some team, somewhere, who could use the services of a guy who’s hit 400-plus career home runs. So Canseco could still wind up on a roster, because anything’s possible.

Because of that unpredictability, it’s so difficult to tell who will end up on top when the dust settles in late October. That’s also why it’s so fun to try to predict it. You never know what will happen.

Maybe your team will call up some rookie home run machine mid-season. The Reds did it last year with Adam Dunn.

Maybe your team’s MVP second baseman will break his wrist in some controversial off-field mishap. It happened in spring training this year with the Giants’ Jeff Kent.

I’ll try to see into the future, but in baseball, the future seems about as clear as the Ithaca sky in March. So here it goes: the picks for the 2002 season.

AL East: Yankees

These guys win it every year. I hate to say it, but there’s no reason to pick anyone else, not in this decade.

AL Central: Twins

A sentimental favorite. The Expos won’t win anything, but the other team on the brink of contraction might pull it off.

AL West: Mariners

If you didn’t get a whiff of Ichiro-mania, you will this year. This team is deep and driven.

AL Wild Card: Angels

Darin Erstad and Tim Salmon should come out of hibernation this year, and Troy Percival will be able to show Mo Vaughn that he can reach the playoffs.

NL East: Phillies

Yeah, I’m a Phils fan. So what? Mike Lieberthal’s back from injury, and if Scott Rolen sticks around, this team has a very talented all-around lineup.

NL Central: Astros

New manager Jimy Williams leads a team with solid veterans and great young pitching. Plus, Enron’s not the stadium name anymore.

NL West: Giants

Bonds is the offensive king of baseball right now, and the rest of the division just isn’t good enough to catch any team he’s on, let alone this one.

NL Wild Card: Diamondbacks

Johnson and Schilling could be the best one-two pitching punch of all time. Woe to the teams that face them this season.

ALCS: Yankees over Mariners…again.

No team in the AL is good enough to pick over the Bronx Bombers.

NLCS: Astros over Diamondbacks

There’s a bunch of teams that could come out of this series, and the list doesn’t end with the teams I picked to make the playoffs.

World Series: Yankees over Astros

I’m praying that some team, somewhere along the way, will prevent this from happening. Unfortunately, the overwhelming favorite has to be the damn Yankees.

But remember — Anything’s possible.

Archived article by Alex Fineman