Originally created 04/03/00

Junior era to open in Cincinnati



Ken Griffey Jr. will be in his new 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.

The first full day of baseball in the new century -- did those games in Japan last week really count? -- 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.

"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.

"I think there's pressure because we're the Yankees," second baseman 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 be, either. They are among 22 umps trying to regain their jobs, the result of Phillips' failed 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 out for the season with a torn elbow ligament, but Ligtenberg, the Braves' closer in 1998, has returned from ligament-replacement surgery.

Kerry Wood, the NL Rookie of the Year for the Cubs in 1998, is still rehabbing 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.

Managers making debuts with new teams today are Mike Hargrove (Baltimore), Charlie Manuel (Cleveland), Davey Lopes (Milwaukee), Mike Sciosia (Anaheim), Buddy Bell (Colorado) and Phil Garner (Detroit). Baylor made his with the Cubs in Tokyo last week.

Baseball's focus, at least for the start, will be on the NL Central, dubbed the Home Run Central.

Can Griffey, McGwire and Sosa combine to top 180 homers?

"The focus on McGwire and Sosa comes from the media as much as the fans," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "I don't think there's anything wrong with that part of the game getting a lot of attention, as long as the teams are, too."