Scott Bordow: Take a couple of sick days in the next month. Grab some friends and make some new ones. It’s Opening Day in the Cactus League.
Pencil to keep score, money for hot dogs and beer and a blanket for the outfield grass?
OK, let’s head to the ballpark.
Oh, wait. One more thing.
Hey, boss. I’m not going to be in today. I’ve got a cold (cough, cough).
Yes, it’s that time of year again. To play hooky. To look for sleepers for your fantasy team. To enjoy a day in the sun and, for a few hours at least, forget about the economy and your shrinking 401K.
Think of a Cactus League game as a mental health day. It’s hard to be depressed when the sun is shining, the beer is cold, and Manny Ramirez is on deck.
(Assuming he ever signs with the Los Angeles Dodgers, of course).
Once given up for dead, the Cactus League is now bigger and better than ever. The Dodgers and Cleveland Indians have migrated to the Valley, and when the Cincinnati Reds move in next year, Arizona will play host to 15 major-league teams, the same number as the Grapefruit League.
So take a couple of sick days in the next month. Grab some friends and make some new ones. It’s Opening Day in the Cactus League.
TOP 10 STORY LINES OF THE CACTUS LEAGUE
1. New ballparks, new teams
It’s quite a haul to the West Valley, but we’ll have to fill the tank at least a couple of times this spring. The Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago White Sox have taken up residence at Camelback Ranch in Glendale. Even further west, the Cleveland Indians are loving their new $73 million digs in Goodyear.
The Dodgers figure to rival the Chicago Cubs as the most popular Cactus League team. They were once “Arizona’s team” — their games were broadcast on KTAR (620 AM) — and there’s still a large contingent of Dodger fans in the Valley.
2. The economy.
Every major league sport has been hit hard by the recession. Might the Cactus League suffer, too? Officials predict more than 1.5 million people will watch games this spring, but that’s just a guess. No one knows if fans feeling the pinch will choose to use their discretionary dollars elsewhere.
3. Randy Johnson
It will be strange — and sad — to see Johnson pitching for the San Francisco Giants. He needs just five wins to reach 300, and he wanted to end his career with the Diamondbacks. Unfortunately, contract negotiations bogged down, and Johnson took a better offer from the Giants. Johnson has said he feels better this spring than he has in two years; wouldn’t it be something if No. 300 happened at Chase Field?
4. Manny watch
There isn’t a more entertaining, infuriating, galvanizing player in baseball than Manny Ramirez, which, of course, makes him fun to watch. Ramirez did some crazy things at Fenway Park — like the time he disappeared inside the scoreboard during a break in action — so just imagine what he might do in the more relaxed atmosphere of Cactus League games.
Hey, that hot dog vendor. Isn’t that Manny?
5. Ken Griffey Jr. back with Mariners
Twenty years ago I ventured to Tempe Diablo Park to talk to Griffey, then a 19-year-old rookie phenom with the Mariners. Two decades later, Griffey is back, older, slower and not the talent he once was.
Still, it’s always a treat to watch a first ballot Hall of Fame player, particularly one who hasn’t been tainted by the steroid scandal. This could be Griffey’s final season, so get out to the ballpark and give the old man a standing ovation. He deserves it.
6. Who will replace Kerry Wood?
It’s now 100 years and counting since the Cubs won the World Series, and they’re coming off back-to-back first-round playoff sweeps. But, it’s spring, so every Cubs fan is certain this will be the year. Chicago added left-handed hitter Milton Bradley in the offseason, but the big question is who the closer will be: Carlos Marmol or recently acquired Kevin Gregg. It will be one of the more interesting position battles of the Cactus League.
7. A microphone is stuck in front of Ozzie Guillen and ...
He can be rude, crude and profane — and that’s on his good days — but the White Sox manager sure knows how to spice up a press conference. Guillen has long complained about the Cubs’ popularity, so having the White Sox and Dodgers share a spring training facility is sure to ignite a few rants.
8. Boy, the Padres could use Tony Gwynn.
Former Diamondbacks executive Jeff Moorad signed an agreement in the offseason to buy the Padres. He might have been better off investing in Enron. Simply put, San Diego is a disaster. The Padres lost closer Trevor Hoffman in the offseason, ace Jake Peavy wants out, and if you can name four starters in their everyday lineup, well, you need a life.
9. Is Max Scherzer ready for his close-up?
Scherzer received some good-natured ribbing from his Diamondbacks’ teammates earlier this spring when he said the ball felt electric when it came out of his hand. The next day, someone affixed a name tag to Scherzer’s locker that read, “Mr. Electric.”
All kidding aside, Scherzer does have electric stuff. The question is whether he can stay healthy for the entire season. The Diamondbacks want to get 170 innings out of him; if they can, he has a chance to win 10 to 12 games as the No. 5 starter.
10. Will the last team in Tucson please turn the lights out?
The White Sox have left. The Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies both want out. It won’t be long before the Cactus League says goodbye to the city of Tucson.
Is it possible Tucson could lure a third team, thus keeping the Diamondbacks and Rockies within the city borders? Possibly. But right now, the Padres have a better chance to win the NL West.