The cactus and the grapefruit.
Spring training in Arizona and Florida. Everybody is equal in the standings. Every team is unbeaten and all are ready for the next red-hot pennant race.
Many things are the same for the 2013 American and National League seasons. Human growth hormone is in some of the players and in all of the news. No team has enough pitching. And injured arms and those players healing from broken bones and arm operations are still scattered like grass seed in all directions.
Controversy still perks away on the front burner.
Many things are different. The Los Angeles Dodgers have a right to claim the season’s first magic. One of the team’s owners is basketball’s Earvin “Magic” Johnson. The Houston Astros have switched leagues and now occupy a place in the American League West along with the Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Angels, Oakland and Seattle.
Fifteen teams in both leagues. Five teams in each of three divisions in each league.
And the Kansas City Royals, Colorado Rockies and Astros will all be mathematically eliminated by the Fourth of July.
Although the Royals won three more games than the Boys from Fenway when the Red Sox crumbled to a 69-93 record.
The usual questions can be asked and probed again. Are the Yankees and Phillies too old? How does Oakland do it with such a small payroll (the A’s were 94-68 last season)? Can the Cubs shed their misery and find true happiness on the prominade of Addison Street? Will Pittsburgh ever have another winning season? Will San Francisco prove to be the best from all the teams with the same look and same chance to catch lightning in a bottle?
In a season to cover in nostalgia colored black and orange and red, white and blue, Baltimore and Washington both made the playoffs. The Orioles provided their long-suffering fans with pitching that got it 93 wins. The Nationals did the same and were winners of 98 games.
One question off the table concerned whether Teddy Roosevelt would ever win in his daily races against George Washington, Abe Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson. Teddy’s mustache is literally bristling with confidence after he was allowed to win once in the season’s last days.
Toronto has spent tons of money in attempting to be competitive again. Tampa Bay believes by exporting one of the Upton brothers it can turn its mausoleum of a home into something a little more pleasant. Boston has another new manager to juggle the egos on its roster and in its front office. New York carefully watches the return of 43-year-old closer Mariano Rivera and the recovery of 38-year-old Derek Jeter from his broken ankle. Baltimore seeks more of the same from its pitchers and core of hitters.
Detroit knows it survived through an ordinary season. The heavy-spending Chicago White Sox failed in September and are still problemed by inconsistent pitching. Cleveland made it all right until a late-June swoon and injuries sent the season into a dive. The Indians spent money in trying to improve. Minnesota has a fan base that remains faithful. Injuries to its best players — Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau — made the Twins a last-place team.
The Texas Rangers allowed Josh Hamilton go to the Angels, but have a team that could win another 90 games. The Angels believe their offense can get them past both Oakland and Texas. Seattle could complain about being in the wrong division, but did its best to keep its roster intact. Houston lost 107 games in its final season in the National League.
Washington brought in outfielder Denard Span, pitchers Dan Haren and Rafael Soriano and also resigned first baseman Adam LaRoche. Will Stephen Strasburg be allowed 200 innings? And will one-time closer Drew Storen be a healthy contributor in his return from injury?
The Nationals have controversy of their own with pitcher Gio Gonzalez having been listed as a human growth hormone user by a Miami company. A complete infield of returnees and a set outfield with Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper and Span made Michael Morse expendable in management’s mind.
Atlanta always has pitching. The Phillies need Josh Howard and Chase Utley to give pitchers Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay some run support. An unknown, untried outfield makes the Mets a longshot to do much. And the Miami Marlins are no better than the Florida Marlins.
Cincinnati has the depth to offset any subpar seasons from some or the retirement of Scott Rolen. St. Louis continues to mine the rich ore found in its farm system. Milwaukee has stayed in the middle of the division and will probably be there again. Pittsburgh paid to keep its most productive players and could climb all the way to .500 for the first time since Pie Traynor and Bill Mazeroski were pups. Oh, those Chicago Cubs. Losers of 101 games last season. The Lovable Losers. Still destined for last place in the Central Division?
Two world championships in three years are a nice legacy for the Giants. Magic’s Dodgers spent like all his money from playing for the Lakers would send them past San Francisco. They have 11 players being paid (as opposed to earning) at least $10 million. The Diamondbacks were 81-81 a year ago and haven’t changed much. San Diego fell to 76-86 in 2012 and will rely on basically the same roster it had. And the Colorado Rockies still have gray-bearded Todd Helton and pitchers who cringe when asked whether the altitude effecting their ERAs.
Grapefruit and Cactus. Human growth hormone and important free agents scattered to the wind. Spring training is here — and baseball is blowin’ in the soft Florida breezes.