A quick trip around the bases for 2003, from A to Z:
A — Altitude. The spring training slugfests in Mexico City between the Mets and Dodgers made Coors Field look like a pitcher's park. Something to think about if baseball plans to put a team south of the border anytime soon.
B — Bat boys. No more cute kids bouncing around the dugout because baseball implemented the "Darren Baker rule," an age requirement of 14 for bat boys. Baker, the 4-year-old son of Cubs manager Dusty Baker, was nearly run over at home plate when he wandered into the action during last year's World Series between Baker's old team, the San Francisco Giants, and the Anaheim Angels.
C — Converted closers. After Derek Lowe's big year for Boston, more teams are trying to turn relief aces into starters. Cincinnati's Danny Graves (32 saves) and Arizona's Byung-Hyun Kim (36 saves) hope to make smooth transitions into the rotation.
D — Death Valley. The Detroit Tigers finally agreed to bring in the left-field fence at Comerica Park. Only three years too late for Juan Gonzalez.
E — Expos' extra estadio. Montreal will play 22 "home" games at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where "pinchos" and "alcapurrias" are served instead of hot dogs and pretzels. The team known for French and English translations will have to add Spanish. Roberto Alomar of the New York Mets and Atlanta catcher Javy Lopez are among the Puerto Rican-born stars looking forward to playing at home.
F — Free agents. The market dried up a bit this winter, which has the players' union investigating the possibility of collusion by owners. Jim Thome, Tom Glavine, Jeff Kent and Ivan Rodriguez were the big names to move and cash in.
G — Godzilla. Hideki Matsui is the first Japanese slugger to come to the United States, and the media frenzy followed. An enormous star back home, he signed a $21 million, three-year contract with the New York Yankees and figures to flourish in the middle of a powerful lineup.
H — Hitting with Hriniak. Frank Thomas worked with hitting guru Walt Hriniak in the offseason, hoping to regain the stroke that made the Big Hurt one of the AL's most feared sluggers throughout the 1990s. Hriniak has Thomas focused on hitting the ball the other way again.
I — Interleague play. Intriguing new matchups include the Yankees at Wrigley Field (June 6-8) for the first time since the 1938 World Series, and the St. Louis Cardinals at Fenway Park (June 10-12) in a rematch of two Fall Classics ('46 and '67).
J — Jorge Julio. Who's that? The Baltimore closer could become the next dominant reliever in baseball — if the struggling Orioles can ever hand him a lead, that is. The 24-year-old right-hander had a 1.99 ERA and 25 saves as a rookie last season.
K — Kid. Effervescent catcher Gary Carter will be inducted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., on July 27 along with switch-hitting slugger Eddie Murray, Brewers broadcaster Bob Uecker and Dayton Daily News writer Hal McCoy.
L — Luxury tax. Designed to give small-market teams a better chance to compete, the Yankees and Mets were the only clubs projected, based on mid-February rosters, to pay the new tariff on big spenders this year. The Yankees' payroll for luxury-tax purposes, including all players on the 40-man roster and benefits, is projected to exceed $180 million.
M — Monster. How'd you like to watch a ball game while sitting atop the most famous landmark in sports? The Boston Red Sox are adding 280 seats atop the Green Monster at Fenway Park. The new section above the 37-foot wall in left field is slated to open April 29, and seats cost $50 each. Standing-room tickets are $20.
N — Neck brace. Alex Rodriguez has not missed a game since signing a $252 million deal with Texas two years ago, but he left spring training for a few days with a herniated disc in his neck. If the problem lingers, new manager Buck Showalter and the Rangers should brace themselves for a dismal season.
O — Old timers. The comeback by New York Mets pitcher David Cone, 40, is shaping up as a success. The right-hander, who sat out the 2002 season, could wind up as the No. 5 starter. Charles Nagy, 35, is trying to catch on with the Padres after missing much of the past three years with elbow problems. A three-time All-Star with the Indians, Nagy even coached first base for an inning in Cleveland's final game last season.
P — Pete Rose. Will 2003 be the year he makes it back into baseball? Everybody's got an opinion, but the only one that matters is Bud Selig — and he's not saying yet.
Q — Quiet Stars. Magglio Ordonez (Chicago White Sox), Brian Giles (Pittsburgh), Bobby Abreu (Philadelphia) and Carlos Beltran (Kansas City) are standouts who go virtually unnoticed.
R — Rocket. Roger Clemens' 300th win could come against his old team. The Red Sox have a pair of three-game series against the Yankees in late May, and Clemens needs just seven victories to reach the magic mark.
S — Sweet Lou. Lou Piniella left success in Seattle for the lowly Tampa Bay Devil Rays. The fiery manager says he'll be patient with his young team, but how do you think he'll handle that 100th loss?
T — Theo Epstein. Boston's 29-year-old general manager was busy in his first offseason, refusing to trade young lefty Casey Fossum for 20-game winner Bartolo Colon, shopping All-Star third baseman Shea Hillenbrand and scooping up Kevin Millar when he chose not to play in Japan.
U — Unit. As in, The Big Unit. Arizona ace Randy Johnson can become the first pitcher to win five consecutive Cy Young Awards and join Clemens as the only men with six overall. At age 39, the 6-foot-10 lefty is more dominant than ever.
V — Vagabonds. Rickey Henderson, baseball's greatest leadoff hitter, is yet to find a team to play for this season at age 44. Also missing is 43-year-old pitcher Mike Morgan, who has played for 22 different clubs in a 25-year pro career. Chuck Knoblauch, Delino DeShields and Chuck Finley haven't found a spot, either.
W — Windy City. Long-suffering Chicago fans might finally have something to cheer about. Buoyed by promising young pitching staffs, the Cubs and White Sox could both contend this year. Neither team has won a World Series since 1917.
X — Xenadrine. The heatstroke death of Baltimore pitcher Steve Bechler during spring training after taking Xenadrine RFA1, an ephedra-based diet pill, has baseball officials deciding whether to ban the supplement. Under the new labor agreement, players are already being tested for illegal steroids.
Y — Yost. New Milwaukee manager Ned Yost spent four years as a backup catcher with the Brewers. His claim to fame? His only home run of the 1982 season came at Fenway Park in late September and gave Milwaukee a four-game lead in the AL East with five to play. The Brewers went on to win the pennant — and haven't made the playoffs since. Yost occasionally worked on Dale Earnhardt's pit crew before the driver's death and wears No. 3 in honor of his friend.
Z — Zito. Zany lefty Barry Zito, the AL Cy Young Award winner, had a wild offseason that included playing guitar on "The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn" and appearances on "The Howard Stern Show" and "Arli$$." But don't expect the celebrity tour to affect this Oakland oddball at all.