Nothing like a good feud to get the baseball juices flowing again.
On the day the crowds returned - mostly, that is - to see real major leaguers like Ken Griffey Jr., Barry Bonds and Jose Canseco hit home runs, the Colorado Rockies and San Francisco Giants were busy renewing their rivalry.Another kind of dispute, this one seen outside the stadiums, had locked-out umpires walking the picket line at three games. Meanwhile, Cal Ripken and the Baltimore Orioles were on the field for the first time this year, and the Toronto Blue Jays were on radio for the first time this season.
While Bonds homered for the Giants, that wasn't the biggest hit of the day as San Francisco played Colorado.
Andres Galarraga, whose season ended last year when a pitch by San Francisco's Dave Burba broke his arm in July, was hit by Jose Bautista. That led Rockies manager Don Baylor to call Bautista "a pretty weak excuse for a major league pitcher."
"We're going to make a statement ourselves, we're going to start pitching inside ourselves and it's going to be in the middle of the lineup," Baylor said.
Giants manager Dusty Baker said Galarraga's unusual stance caused him to be hit.
"He needs to learn how to get out of the way, don't you think?" Baker asked. "Clearly that ball wasn't at his head, it was up and in. And there's no crime in throwing up and in."
Clearly, the buzz was back in baseball. The crack of bat seemed sharper, the pitches went faster, the hard-hit balls went farther. Even the popups were major league, sailing high above the single-decked ballparks in Florida and Arizona.
"These guys are the show. They're the reason the fans come out," Wayne Busby, the replacement shortstop for the Pirates, said while watching Pittsburgh play the Chicago White Sox from a box seat in Bradenton, Fla.
For the most part, the crowds were larger than they had been six weeks ago when the strikebreakers started the exhibition season.
There were 7,100 fans at Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg, Fla., to see Cincinnati play St. Louis. Then, again, as a goodwill gesture, the Cardinals are offering free admission to their seven home spring games.
There were 6,164 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to see the New York Yankees take on the New York Mets. Only about 600 saw the Yankees' home replacement opener.
Among the 6,153 fans in Clearwater, Fla., for the Toronto-Philadelphia night game was Dave Roberts, 41, of Ottawa, Ontario. He'd spent the afternoon about two hours away, watching Kansas City play Houston.
"The game is bigger than the players or the owners," he said.
But in Vero Beach, Fla., where the Dodgers usually sell out 6,500-seat Holman Stadium, the crowd was just 1,788 for the game between Los Angeles and Florida. The Dodgers' replacement games, played at the height of the winter tourist season, drew an average of 2,117.
"I'm not surprised, because of the time of year," Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda said. "If this was a month ago, I would be, but not now."
But, even though there was no booing at exhibition games, all was not well.
Fans making their way into Municipal Stadium in West Palm Beach, Fla., saw a clear reminder that there is not yet labor peace in baseball. Outside the game between Atlanta and Montreal, 11 umpires set up a picket line.
Umpires, locked out by owners since they were last paid Dec. 31, also formed picket lines in Phoenix for the game between Oakland and the Chicago Cubs, and in Fort Lauderdale for the Yankees-Mets game. Negotiators for the sides met Thursday without much progress; opening day is April 25, and replacement umps are ready to work.
"My gut feeling is they'll open up the season without us and go a week or 10 days into the season," NL umpire Eric Gregg said. "After the players and fans start complaining, then they'll see a need to get it done."
Many of the star players got it done early.
Griffey homered on the first pitch he saw from Andy Benes. Dave Winfield connected in his first game for Cleveland and Canseco homered in his first game with Boston.
"It felt great to be out there after eight months of layoff. The fans gave us a warm reception," Winfield said. "I was glad of that."
The Orioles, who refused to play with replacements, beat Texas 6-5 in 10 innings, helped by two hits from Ripken.
"It felt good to play baseball again," Ripken said. "The first game always feels a bit strange, but this one was stranger than most."
The Detroit Tigers, playing for the first time this spring under manager Sparky Anderson, lost to Cleveland 10-9. The Blue Jays, whose radio network would not broadcast replacement games, were back on the air for a night game against Philadelphia.
"The tempo was definitely picked up from replacement ball," San Diego Padres manager Bruce Bochy said.
During the replacement spring, some managers actually chuckled at what they saw on the field. Not now, though - real baseball, as if there was any doubt, has returned.