Baseball’s future looks bright – except in Florida |

Baseball’s future looks bright – except in Florida

Jeremy Littau

It seems as if baseball has finally started to address its popularity problem by turning to NASCAR.

No, commish Bud Selig didn’t look at the race organization’s fan base for clues. Baseball went for the quick fix, the $50 nip-and-tuck instead of the $5,000 Hollywood Leading Lady Special.

Instead of trying to mirror the explosion in NASCAR’s popularity by concentrating on fan loyalty, baseball went straight for the cosmetics.

In case you didn’t see it, last week’s season opener in Japan gave us a glimpse of the game’s future, with the New York Mets sporting AM/PM logos on their batting helmets.

Baseball apparently thinks the way to mirror NASCAR’s success is to make its players look like NASCAR drivers. I wasn’t sure if I was watching Mike Hampton or Jeff Gordon.

Welcome to Baseball 2000, welcome to the future.

Shameless helmet advertisements are just some of the changes this season. On the brighter side, we have new ballparks in Detroit, Houston and San Francisco, and like a good baseball fan I plan to visit all three within the next couple years.

For the first time in recent memory, some of the small-market teams have a shot at competing, including the likes of Pittsburgh, Montreal, the aforementioned San Francisco lads, Oakland and Cincinnati.

And then there’s Florida, which has the Dilbert of front offices and a team payroll that would even make Marge Schott scream, “Cheapskates!” Oh yes, the Marlins will be certifiably awful once again this year.

But hey, no baseball season would be complete without a few fearless predictions. Technically I’m cheating, since the Mets and Cubs have both played, but it’s hard to chart a trend after two games.

Work with me, and remember – these are for recreational use only …

American League:

West – A sleeper no more, Oakland could easily win this wide-open division. Texas has a great lineup, but the pitching is suspect, especially with the departure of Aaron Sele. Seattle is an intriguing team, but much will depend on how Brett Tomko and and Mike Cameron – both acquired in the Ken Griffey Jr. trade – perform in their new unis. Prediction: Oakland.

Central – This is the least-competitive division in baseball by far, perhaps in recent memory. Cleveland is the class of perhaps the entire league with the addition of Chuck Finley. Chicago has the offense and little pitching, whereas the Royals have enough pieces in place that it could be the Athletics of this season. Still, with the mighty Indians, the comparison is more like a brawl between Metallica and the Backstreet Boys – entertaining, but no contest. Prediction: Cleveland.

East – Let’s see, maybe the team to beat is the two-time defending champion New York Yankees. Boston is once again a quality team and should win the wild card. Baltimore is proof positive that spending a lot doesn’t guarantee anything. Toronto is a good sleeper team here, and Tampa Bay is, well, Tampa Bay. Prediction: New York.

Cy Young – Bartolo Colon, Cleveland.

MVP – Manny Ramirez, Cleveland.

Rookie – Ramon Hernandez, Oakland.

Manager – Art Howe, Oakland.

National League

West – Like its AL counterpart, this will be a fun division to watch. San Francisco is pretty much the same team as last season, but a look at 1990s trends show that teams in a new ballpark tend to improve a lot in their new home. Arizona will be a strong contender, but it has some question marks, starting with pitching. Los Angeles is still an enigma, but it’s clear this season that outside of Kevin Brown, there is no pitching in Dodgerland. Prediction: San Francisco.

Central – A competitive division, but overrated in terms of talent. After acquiring Jim Edmonds, St. Louis has to be the favorite because of its powerful lineup and strong pitching. Houston is weaker than last season with the departure of Mike Hampton and Carl Everett, who was perhaps their MVP last season. Cincinnati is better in the lineup, but the Reds still have pitching questions. Even Pittsburgh could surprise here, as pitchers Kris Benson and Jason Schmidt look ready to break out. Prediction: St. Louis.

East – Atlanta is the team to beat here again, even with John Smoltz’s season-ending injury. The Mets have quality pitching this year, but the offense will struggle to score. Montreal could be the surprise wild-card contender here, especially now that it isn’t afraid to spend money. Prediction: Atlanta.

Cy Young – Kevin Millwood, Atlanta.

MVP – Barry Bonds, San Francisco.

Rookie – Rick Ankiel, St. Louis.

Manager – Felipe Alou, Montreal.

World Series

Cleveland over St. Louis in seven games.

Jeremy Littau is the Nevada Appeal sports editor.