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Junior Time Finally Arrives in Cincinnati

From Associated Press

Ken Griffey Jr. will be in his new Cincinnati Reds jersey.

Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa will have the first faceoff in the Home Run Central.

Andres Galarraga, Kerry Ligtenberg, Moises Alou and Jason Kendall will be back.

And John Rocker, John Smoltz, Curt Schilling, Kerry Wood, Matt Williams, Darryl Strawberry and Richie Garcia will be among the missing.

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The true Opening Day for baseball in 2000 is today--did those games in Japan last week really count?--and it is filled with a year’s worth of plot lines.

“My son’s skipping school on opening day. It’s a tradition,” Griffey said. “Cincinnati expects that a lot of kids are not going to be there.”

Griffey renewed baseball’s buzz in Cincinnati when he forced Seattle to trade him to his hometown team on Feb. 10. With their annual parade, the Reds--who started play in 1869--get the most worked up about opening day.

“I can’t wait to see Junior get announced,” Reds first baseman Hal Morris said Sunday, a day before the Reds open the North American portion of the baseball season against Milwaukee.

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“In ’91, there was tremendous excitement because we’d just won the World Series,” Morris said. “I think this matches if not surpasses that.”

While the New York Mets and Chicago Cubs split a two-game series at Tokyo last week--the first season opener outside North America--the other 28 clubs were still at spring training.

In the American League, the New York Yankees begin their quest to become the first team to win three straight World Series since the 1972-74 Oakland Athletics. They’ll be missing Strawberry, again suspended for cocaine use, this time for a year.

“I think there’s pressure because we’re the Yankees,” Chuck Knoblauch said. “It’s a double-barreled thing, because we’re the Yankees and we’re the defending champions, so everybody is gunning for us.”

Fans will see new crews of mixed AL and NL umps. The new union, which replaced Richie Phillips’ Major League Umpires Association, agreed to the merger as part of baseball’s elimination of separate league offices.

Garcia, perhaps the most recognizable umpire, won’t be on the field and Frank Pulli won’t either. They are among 22 umpires still trying to regain their jobs, the result of Phillips’ failed mass resignation plan.

Rocker also will be missing, serving a two-week suspension--an arbitrator cut it from four weeks--for disparaging gays, foreigners, minorities and New Yorkers in a magazine article.

Smoltz, his Atlanta teammate, is sidelined for the season with a torn elbow ligament, but Ligtenberg, the Braves’ closer in 1998, has returned from ligament-replacement surgery.

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Kerry Wood, the NL Rookie of the Year for the Cubs in 1998, is still rehabilitating from the same injury, and Schilling, Philadelphia’s ace, is working his way back from shoulder surgery. Williams, a big reason Arizona won the NL West in only its second season, broke a bone in his foot last week and will miss at least the first month and a half.

Galarraga, back from cancer treatment, has reclaimed his first-base spot in Atlanta, and Alou is back with Houston following a knee injury that caused him to miss all of 1999. Kendall returned to the Pirates after a gruesome ankle injury last July 4.


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