03/30/2003 10:15 PM ET
A look back at Spring Training 2003
Barry Bonds was the same old Barry Bonds. Baseballs in Mexico City seemed to go even farther than they do in Colorado. Pudge Rodriguez looked good in teal. And Chipper Jones wasn't the only one who thought it would take a while before we get used to seeing Tom Glavine in a Mets uniform against the Braves.
|By Mark Newman / MLB.com
As Major League Baseball opens another regular season, here is a look back at some of the highlights from Spring Training 2003:
Last year we saw John Smoltz converted from starter to closer during Spring Training, and then go on to set the National League record for saves. This spring, we saw a couple of key NL closers make the transition to starter: Byung-Hyun Kim for Arizona (27 IP, 9 ER, 21 K) and Danny Graves for Cincinnati (19.1 IP, 11 ER, 6 K).
Kevin Brown not only showed that he is healthy again, but he also was arguably the most dominant pitcher this spring. The Dodgers' veteran led all pitchers with a 1.03 ERA and also led with 34 strikeouts.
The Seattle Mariners nearly became tax-base residents in Arizona. Their camp opened earlier than any team's before, anticipating an Opening Day in Japan that did not happen due to developments in Iraq. The Mariners finally left the Grand Canyon State, and they must wait until Tuesday night to open their season against Oakland. Seven players on the original 40-man roster celebrated birthdays during Seattle's camp, and let's just hope the Peoria economy enjoyed a spike.
Bonds homered in his first at-bat, and he finished with his spring-best 10th on the final weekend. When you also consider his postseason and even Japan All-Star Series displays of power, it is obvious that Bonds is completely in control of his destiny right now. He opens the season with 613 homers -- 142 shy of Hank Aaron's record.
There are some people who think Bonds is a legitimate Triple Crown contender, but we also noticed a couple relatively new candidates from Missouri who merited consideration this spring. Albert Pujols of the Cardinals finished fifth in batting (.414), fifth in homers (6) and first in RBIs (24). Mike Sweeney of the Royals finished second in batting (.448), tied for third in homers (7) and tied for second in RBIs (21).
Mark Teixeira flashed onto the radar screen of fantasy owners everywhere. Winning a job with the Rangers, the rookie finished behind only Bonds with eight homers, second in runs (19) and third in hits (29). What made Texas fans even happier, though, was seeing that an injury to Alex Rodriguez would not delay his regular season.
We also became very familiar with Todd Sears, who was tearing up the Grapefruit League for much of the spring. The Twins' first baseman finished with a .314 average (16-for-51), five homers and 16 RBIs, but the numbers waned gradually and he was optioned Saturday to Triple-A Rochester as it became apparent that Corey Koskie was healthy enough to start the season on the active roster.
Josh Fogg, who caught everyone's attention last year in Pittsburgh's rotation, was pounded badly in his first spring start. It was a classic example of first spring starts meaning nothing. He became the only spring pitcher to win five exhibitions, against that one loss. Likewise, Glavine looked shaky statistically under close New York media scrutiny, but he showed that typical Glavine form toward the end.
Pedro Martinez threw only 18 innings and was ramped up very gradually, yet he finished third with 26 strikeouts. He looked good enough for Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy to write: "Let me go on record yet again and predict an Opening Day no-hitter from Pedro." Well, it is against the same Tampa Bay team that Derek Lowe no-hit last season.
Everyone talked about David Wells' new book. By the time camp ended, we were talking about Wells' performance on the mound. Meanwhile, his old friend David Cone was one of the pleasant surprises for the Mets, re-establishing himself as a key addition to Art Howe's staff after a year away from the game.
The Padres missed a Major League-high 1,406 player games to the disabled list in 2002, and the fortunes did not get any better at the start of camp. First the club learned that Trevor Hoffman (clavicle) would miss at least half the season -- and then came the news that Phil Nevin (shoulder) would be out all year. "I just hope we stay healthy the rest of this season," GM Kevin Towers said.
Lou Piniella managed his first games for Tampa Bay, and although there were some long days, he saw the first no-hitter of any kind in the Rays' history. It was a combined effort in an exhibition, but it was forward progress.
Jim Thome finished strong as Philadelphia's new slugger, with five homers, 10 RBIs and a .320 average. Mike Hampton didn't finish the way he would have liked. After some bright moments this spring, the Braves' left-handed replacement in the rotation for Tom Glavine hurt his calf on the treadmill and opens the season on the 15-day DL.
Mike Piazza and Guillermo Mota became as unlikely to trade holiday cards this year as Omar Vizquel and Jose Mesa.
Junior Griffey's numbers leveled off the last couple of weeks, but he still finished with six homers, 18 RBIs and a .367 (18-for-49) average. Three of those homers came on one big day early in camp. Another who leveled off offensively was Hideki Matsui, who stayed on three homers and 10 RBIs for an extended time at spring's end. The Yankees still liked what they saw from the new slugger from Japan, who had 68 at-bats to acclimate himself to Major League pitching.
Troy Glaus, who had four homers in the last World Series, was homerless in 46 spring at-bats. He clearly was bothered by a hand injury, and was expected to be ready for the start of the season. Pudge Rodriguez clearly was ready, finishing a terrific spring with a .382 (21-for-55) average, 18 RBIs and 16 runs.
Another Spring Training is in the books, serving its annual purpose for players and for fans. Fortunately for those fans who stay behind in Arizona and Florida, of course, the arrival of regular season no longer means complete withdrawal these days.
Mark Newman is a writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.