PLAY BALL! Schilling, Bonds begin on sidelines
The American League season opens tonight in Yankee Stadium.
By RONALD BLUM
Mark McGwire would be happy: It's time to look ahead, not behind.
After an off-season filled with talk about which players were on steroids, attention turns to the 2005 season. It begins tonight when the world champion Boston Red Sox and Yankees open in New York.
Curt Schilling will be missing from that game, still recovering from the ankle injury that led to the bloody sock during last year's playoffs.
A coast away, Barry Bonds will be on the sidelines, too, recovering from knee surgery and perhaps his perpetual bad mood.
While Bonds' pursuit of Hank Aaron's home run record remains on hold, the rest of the game will move on.
"Last time I looked, the Boston Red Sox won the World Series without Barry," Giants ace Jason Schmidt said. "I don't think anybody's dwelling on it. It's not like we're sitting around talking about it. We've all been on teams without Barry."
After all the talk about steroids, baseball is seeking positive headlines, not test results.
Much is different this year, with a new team in Washington and none in Montreal. The Anaheim Angels were rechristened the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, even though they're only slightly farther from Tinseltown than the newly named Nationals are from Baltimore.
Lots of players have moved on to new teams, too, including Sammy Sosa, Pedro Martinez, Carlos Beltran, Adrian Beltre, Derek Lowe, Carlos Delgado and Magglio Ordonez.
Questions about steroid use haven't stopped fans from spending on baseball. There are tougher testing rules this year -- for the first time, an initial positive result for performance-enhancing drugs would cause a 10-day suspension.
"The integrity of our game was beginning to come under fire," said Arizona's Tony Clark, explaining why players agreed to toughen the rules in the middle of their labor contract.
On Monday, the Nationals play their first game, traveling up I-95 to Philadelphia. Known as the Expos during 36 seasons in Montreal, the attendance-challenged team finally moved after years of threats.
Frank Robinson remains the manager, and much of the roster has stayed the same. Until the commissioner's office sells the franchise, it will be among the lowest spenders in the majors, even though its revenue will skyrocket.
"Now we've got a home," outfielder Brad Wilkerson said. "There's no more excuses. We go out there and play baseball and try to win ball games."
There are other big stories, too. Atlanta, having lost J.D. Drew to the Dodgers and Wright to the Yankees, moved John Smoltz back into the starting rotation for the first time since 1999, acquired Dan Kolb from Milwaukee to take over as closer and obtained 20-game winner Tim Hudson from Oakland.
The Braves are confident their new mix can lead them to their 14th straight division title, and perhaps their first Series championship since 1995.
"I like our makeup," Smoltz said. "I think we've given ourselves more of a fighting chance."
While Houston lost Beltran to the New York Mets, Roger Clemens decided to spend a second season with his hometown Astros, who fell one win short of reaching the World Series for the first time. After winning his record seventh Cy Young Award, and hiking his career wins to 328, the 42-year-old Rocket needs just two wins to pass Steve Carlton for ninth place on the career list.
Busch Stadium will be back for its 40th season, scheduled to be its last before the Cardinals move across the street to a new Busch.
New York's other team, the Mets, has a new look this year following the additions of Martinez and Beltran. Dubbed the "new Mets" by Beltran and "Los Mets" by some, the team has been energized following the arrival of new general manager Omar Minaya.
"It's not all about players. It's about changing the mind-set, changing the culture of what's been going on here," first-time manager Willie Randolph said. "We're going to see who wants to play."
Detroit, trying to avoid a 12th straight losing season, is host of the All-Star game on July 12. A few weeks later, Wade Boggs and Ryne Sandberg will be inducted into the Hall of Fame on July 31 -- also the last day to make trades without securing waivers.
By then, the Yankees either will be on their way to restoring the usual order against the Red Sox, or New York owner George Steinbrenner will be creating a ruckus.
"Anything less than winning a World Series," Johnson said, "isn't acceptable."
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