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ISSUE 117 VOL 13 PUBLISHED 3/12/2004

Lets play ball

By Ryan Maus
Staff Writer

Friday, March 12, 2004

Even though the weather outside may lead you to believe otherwise, spring actually arrived three weeks ago. Its coming wasnt accompanied by a spring thaw (obviously), the emergence of the long-forgotten sun, or even the budding of the trees. Rather, it began with the uttering of that one magical phrase: Pitchers and catchers report. Just like that, thoughts of the long, dark winter are dismissed, and the minds of millions of fans nationwide turn instead toward spring and summer. There is no time like spring training for a baseball fan; every team can find a reason to be optimistic about the upcoming season (even the Detroit Tigers).

The beginning of Spring Training 2004 marks the end of what has been one of the most eventful off-seasons in recent baseball history. Once the Hot Stove League (the nickname for baseballs off-season happenings) heated up last November, it never cooled down. For baseball fans that couldnt wait for the 2004 season to begin- especially after the Florida Marlins shocking upset of the New York Yankees in last years World Series- this past winter has provided plenty of topics for discussion.

The most prominent headline of the past four months has been the ongoing rivalry between the Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. This 86 year-old feud reached new heights this winter, due in part to the fact that both teams suffered disappointing endings to their 2003 seasons. The Red Sox came within five outs of reaching their first World Series in 17 years before collapsing at the hands of the Yankees, whose Series loss has driven egotistical owner George Steinbrenner to new levels of desperation. Because his Yankees havent won a world championship in three whole years, George has decided to take the kiddie gloves off and just outspend every other team by about $75 million.

Nowhere was this competition more pronounced than in the Alex Rodriguez sweepstakes. Rodriguez, widely considered the games most complete player, repeatedly expressed his unhappiness this winter with his last-place team, the Texas Rangers. The Rangers began actively shopping their superstar, looking for someone willing to take on his behemoth 252 million dollar contract. The Red Sox, sensing the opportunity to finally overtake their hated rivals, began a long and intense negotiation process with the Rangers last November. The talks went on amidst a bona fide media circus, with new rumors and speculations emerging almost every day. The proposed deal (involving disgruntled Red Sox superstar Manny Ramirez and cash) was finally killed by the players association in late December. It looked like Rodriguez would be stuck in Texas for at least one more season.

If that is where the situation had ended, it still would have been the biggest story of the winter in baseball. However, the deepest and darkest fear of any Red Sox fan or Yankee-hater would inevitably come true. It was Yankees third basemen Aaron Boone, the same Aaron Boone that sent the Sox packing last October with a series-ending homerun, who would once again prove to be their undoing. His season-ending knee injury (sustained while playing pick-up basketball, of all things) left Steinbrenners Yankees without a proven replacement.

It took a while for the trade talks to begin, but once they did, Yankee management didnt waste any time. Where Boston had failed after two months of negotiations, the Yankees needed only three days to complete the Rodriguez trade. That groaning sound you hear? Its Red Sox fans everywhere, realizing that they have, once again, been foiled by the Yankees and their evil empire.

Leave it up to the excessive Steinbrenner, who only needed a competent third basemen, to go out and trade for the games best defensive shortstop and highest-paid player. Most baseball experts say his defensive talents will be wasted at the hot corner, and many people believe its only a matter of time before A-Rod replaces Yankee captain Derek Jeter at shortstop (Jeter is a far inferior defensive player). The acquisition of Rodriguez pushes New Yorks 2004 player payroll to almost $200 million. By comparison, the Red Sox will have the second-highest payroll with about $125 million, while the lowly Tampa Bay Devil Rays will only spend about $25 million this year.

With spring training already in full swing, the 2004 baseball season will soon be upon us. The Sox-Yanks spat promises to once again capture the headlines, as well as the attentions, of baseball fans around the country. No matter how intriguing the off-season was, I still cant wait for the games to begin. Lets play ball!

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