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Originally published April 1, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified April 10, 2007 at 9:08 PM

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Larry Stone

Coming year is anyone's guess

Feel a breeze? Some poor Orioles hitter just started swinging at Johan Santana's changeup — and their opener with Minnesota is still...

Seattle Times baseball reporter

Feel a breeze? Some poor Orioles hitter just started swinging at Johan Santana's changeup — and their opener with Minnesota is still 24 hours away.

There's not much better than the unveiling of a new baseball season, crackling with hope and promise. As all fans know, it's a wonderful time to savor the delicious tension of the unknown.

Yet even in a turbulent world where Gil Meche is wooed like a latter-day Bob Gibson, there are a few things we can take to the bank for 2007:

Mark Prior and Kerry Wood — the Taped Crusaders, as one Chicago columnist dubbed them — will lead the world in simulated games. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays will lead the world in unstimulating games.

Every time one of Tony La Russa's managerial moves backfires, someone at Busch Stadium will make a crack about him being "asleep at the wheel."

Lou Piniella will plead with the Cubs' front office to get him a bat — just one bat! — at the trade deadline. This will mark 15 straight years of managing that Piniella has made the same plea. Piniella, meanwhile, will tell everyone that he has mellowed in his advanced age, right up until the first time that he goes ballistic over a bad call. My money is on April 23.

Lou's predecessor at Wrigley Field, Dusty Baker, will loom, at least in the rumor mill, as the manager-in-waiting for every opening that crops up.

The term "hot seat" will be invoked 33,821 times by reporters covering the Mariners. And that's just on opening day.

Thousands of Little Leaguers in New England will diligently try to learn Daisuke Matsuzaka's fabled "Gyroball." Curt Schilling will blog his little heart out, and maybe even find time to win some games. And the state of Jonathan Papelbon's shoulder will be an ongoing civic obsession in New England.

Feel another breeze? Adam Dunn is taking his hacks.

Yankees fans will be able to recite in intricate detail the wording of A-Rod's out clause. They will volunteer to escort him out of town after his first error, and beg him to stay after his first winning home run. Derek Jeter will be proven an inferior defensive shortstop by statheads and lauded as the consummate winner by his peers.

The word "gritty" will be associated with Willie Bloomquist an American-League record 133,422 times, falling well short of David Eckstein's major-league mark.

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On a more serious note, the shadow of Barry Bonds will envelope the entire sport yet again. With Bonds just 21 homers shy of Hank Aaron's majestic record and friskier this spring than in years, it finally seems clear that nothing short of an indictment or suspension will stop him.

However one feels about the legitimacy of Bonds' chase, the spectacle will be spectacular, whether it's the fierce booing that would seem likely to greet Bonds if 756 comes on the road, or the lovefest he would likely receive in San Francisco.

Will Bud Selig be on hand to shake Bonds' hand? The commissioner is not saying, clearly hoping for some intervention — divine or otherwise — that stops Bonds short.

As much consternation as Bonds' chase will cause Selig, and as unsuccessful as he's been, yet again, in suppressing the sobering issue of performance-enhancing drugs, much is right in the world of baseball.

Labor peace is at hand. Revenue streams are pouring in at an unprecedented rate, leading to this past winter's free-agent explosion. In a perversely encouraging development, once-downtrodden teams like the Pirates and Royals now have the means to spend as foolishly as the Yankees and Red Sox.

Most importantly, parity rules the land. Virtually every team can conjure up a World Series scenario and not be declared legally insane. The mighty Yankees haven't won a title since 2000, and the notion that a pennant can be bought is lessening.

The benefits of several years of legitimate revenue sharing has closed the gap between haves and have-nots. Only the Devil Rays (as always) and Nationals seem to be completely hopeless going into the season. The Tigers showed last year that even a perennially drifting, 90-loss team can, with astute management and a little luck, find itself in the World Series.

The NFL might be king of the sporting universe, but consider that in the three leading markets in this country — New York, Chicago and Los Angeles — it is baseball, and not the gridiron, that dominates the landscape. (Sorry, Bears fans — one Super Bowl appearance does not trump 6 million fans at Wrigley and U.S. Cellular).

Despite its obvious warts, the game is alive and well — and, look out below, Sweet Lou just started hurling bases.

Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or lstone@seattletimes.com

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About Larry Stone

Larry Stone gives an inside look at the national baseball scene every Sunday. Look for his weekly power rankings during the season.
lstone@seattletimes.com

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