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Spring Fever.
April 2, 2004

by Bill Hogan


 
 

Sandwiched between the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament "Final Four" semi-finals on Saturday and the championship game on Monday is the start of the baseball season.

Opening Day for Major League Baseball can't come soon enough for the fans or the league. It's been a long, miserable winter. Too much snow, too much Pete Rose and way too much talk about steroids.

 
 


For baseball fans, February and March should be spent worrying about who will be the team's starting pitchers or how the club plans on filling the right field position. Not who is using steroids, who stopped using steroids and how will the scandal effect the team's home run production.

And, according to the media, the one and only significant trade or free agent signing that occurred over the winter was the Rangers sending A-Rod to the Yankees. Makes me wonder if my team made any moves this off season to improve their ball club; and whether this will be another year where they struggle to stay out of last place.

Here we are in April, the season is just about to get under way, and I know more about BALCO and performance-enhancing drugs than I do about the quality of my team's bullpen. Do we even have a decent closer?

It's tough to be a baseball fan in the new millennium. Too many distractions. Too many things going on "outside the lines." Issues far more complicated than trying to hit a curve ball or turning a double play. I bet it wasn't like this in the old days. Then again…

Before the start of the 1966 season, Los Angeles Dodgers fans had to contend with their own off-field woes when Hall of Fame pitchers Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale decided to hold out for more money.

The star pitching duo wanted to divvy up $1 million over the next three years and was willing to sit out the season if their demands weren't met. Fans breathed a collective sigh of relief when the pair reached an agreement with Dodgers management days before the season began.

In the end, things turned out pretty well. The Dodgers won the National League Pennant and Sandy Koufax led the league with 27 wins, 317 strikeouts and a 1.73 ERA. Koufax also was named the NL Cy Young Award winner.

There was no Opening Day in 1972. Baseball fans had to endure the first-ever players strike. We've lived through enough "work stoppages" to know better, but when it happened for the first time, fans must have been pretty worried about the future of America's pastime.

The players union wanted owners to cough up more money for their pension fund. In all, a total of 86 games were missed before the issue was resolved and play resumed on April 14th.

Baseball fans lost 13 days of the 1972 season, but when the players finally took the field, all the rules of the game were in tact. On Opening Day in 1973, baseball executives decided to alter 97 years of tradition by introducing the designated hitter to the American League.

Pitchers that don't have to hit; batters that don't have to field; Babe Ruth must have turned over in his grave. When the New York Yankees sent Ron Blomberg to the plate against the Boston Red Sox on April 6, 1972, a shiver shot up the spine of every baseball purist in America.

So, it may seem, baseball history provides us with many reasons to greet the start of a new season with doubt, apprehension and fear of the unknown. But not on April 4, 1974. Not when Hank Aaron is one swing of the bat away from tying Babe Ruth's all-time home run record.

On Opening Day at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati, Aaron used his first appearance at the plate to end an entire winter's worth of anticipation by hitting a 3-0 pitch over the left field wall for a 3-run home run. (Four days later, Aaron would break the record many thought would stand forever.)

I think it's safe to say that nobody at the game in Cincinnati, nobody watching the game on television and nobody who read about Aaron's feat in the paper the next morning ever entertained the notion that Hammerin' Hank was taking steroids.

On Opening Day, 2004, a batter will step up to the plate and knock a fastball over the centerfield wall. And everybody watching will wonder.

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