Column: Let the early season pennant races begin

What I love most about the early baseball season is that all teams are still mathematically alive in the pennant race. Well, barely alive. Tampa Bay is 1-5 and fading fast. But, even so, how many times can Devil Rays fans actually say that their beloved team is just three games behind second place New York and Boston.

Speaking of Beantown, not a bad Fenway debut for Manny Ramirez, who launched his first Red Sox home run on the first pitch he saw Friday afternoon. And what’s with Cy Young – I mean, Hideo Nomo – who threw a no-hitter in his Wednesday night debut with Boston. Then there was Pedro Martinez’s 16-strikeout performance Sunday. I say good for Boston, who are really relying on the BoSox to bring it home

Tough luck has seemed to strike Boston’s other teams recently. The Boston Bruins won’t be attending the hockey playoffs despite finishing with the same amount of points as eighth-seeded Carolina. And it looks like the Indiana Pacers will edge out the Celtics for the eighth and final NBA playoff spot.

But let’s get back to baseball for a little while. I mean with the weather getting warmer, with summertime approaching and with every team pennant contenders, there’s just nothing like it. I enjoy watching Fred McGriff endorse the Tom Emanski school of robotic teenage baseball players.

When your team wins, don’t you love to check out the box score on the Web and then watch “Baseball Tonight” replays as many times as possible? With SportsCenter and all the other sports shows, you can watch Mariano Rivera or Roberto Hernandez or Ugueth Urbina or, dare I say it, Jose Mesa record 20 saves in one night.

The beauty of it all is that win or lose, there’s always another game soon to be played. That’s why one can never get too high or too low about their team. Baseball is a game of inches, and in a 162-game season you have to be ready to ride the wave.

It must be so much fun to be from Chicago. It must be so much fun to just chill at Wrigley during a weekday afternoon, and root, root, root for the Cubbies during the seventh-inning stretch. It’s the little things that make this game so very special.

As a fan, I think there’s something very important about getting to a baseball game on time. Now, there’s traffic and work obligations that sometimes prevent a fan from watching a full nine, but isn’t it fun to get there before the start. You can stand during the national anthem and you can get all your food and drink before the opening pitch. Did you know you can get a centerfield bleacher seat, a chicken platter with French fries, a giant soda and a bag of peanuts all for $20 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. I guess it’s a psychological thing, but I like to just get situated.

For all these reasons, I trained up to the Phillies home opener Friday afternoon at Veterans Stadium. I’m happy to report that the green cement we called a playing field was replaced with a new synthetic turf. No, it’s not grass, but it’s good enough until the city finally gets its new ballpark in 2004.

Naturally, I arrived at the game about 45 minutes early. Hey, the Phillies entered the game against the Cubs a perfect 3-0 and were going for their first 4-0 start since 1915. The scenario was eerily similar to that of 1993, when the Phils won three straight on the road before falling to the Cubs in their home opener. Philly went to the World Series that year before losing to Joe Carter and the Toronto Blue Jays. My thinking was that if the Phillies won Friday, especially with Joe Carter at the game as a Cubs color analyst on WGN, then maybe this was the year.

But as is my luck, I had to wait in a two-hour rain delay because of the cold drizzle that just kept going and going and going, and then watched the Cubbies hold on for a 3-2 win. I will admit that it was kind of cool to see this attractive girl from Chicago, who happened to be sitting next to me, smile and cheer when the final out was made. Somehow, the frustrating loss didn’t matter at all.

Well, baseball season’s back everybody. Both yours and mine are still alive so let’s enjoy and follow our teams as best we can. The problem for my baseball team in recent years has been a small little problem I’d like to call July, August and September. Maybe this year will be different. Have a great baseball season and believe in your team. You just never know.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.