Circle your calendar
Early-season dates to remember:
April 1: Opening Day. The Pirates aren't mathematically eliminated - yet.
April 4: Braves open chop shop at Turner Field.
April 15: President Clinton speaks during ceremony at Shea Stadium on 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's breaking the major-league color line.
April 19: Cardinals play the Padres in Hawaii. As the song says, "I don't care if I never get back."
June 12: Rockies travel to Seattle to launch interleague play and a home run or three.
On the way up and . . .
Best players 25 or under:
1B Ryan Klesko, 25, Braves: 34 HRs, 93 RBIs.
2B Ray Durham, 25, White Sox: AL-best 30-for-34 in steal tries.
3B Chipper Jones, 24, Braves: All-Star starter; 30 HRs, .309.
RF Manny Ramirez, 24, Indians: 33 HRs, 112 RBIs; hit .375 in Division Series.
CF Rondell White, 25, Expos: 5-tool player with 29 extra-base hits in just 88 games.
DH Carlos Delgado, 24, Blue Jays: 25 HRs, 92 RBIs.
RHP Ismael Valdes, 23, Dodgers: 15-7, 3.32 ERA.
Reliever Antonio Osuna, 23, Dodgers: Led NL with 9 relief wins; gave up just 65 hits in 84 innings.
. . . on the way out
Players in their last seasons:
OF Brett Butler, 39, Dodgers: Will retire after making remarkable comeback from cancer.
P Dennis Eckersley, 42, Cardinals: If Dennis Martinez and Lee Smith retire first, he could be active leader in both wins and saves by time he closes it out.
DH Eddie Murray, 41, Angels: Already has 3,000 hits and 500 homers. No use hanging around in the cellar.
P Steve Trout, 39, Pirates: And you thought his last season was 1989.
World Series we'd like to see:
Yankees-Padres: Late-season acquisition Hideki Irabu pitches against the San Diego team that reluctantly traded him to New York for the only player in the majors whose uniform needs more pinstripes than his: Cecil Fielder.
Dodgers-Indians: Orel Hershiser caps a run of 58 consecutive scoreless innings by winning Game 5 at Dodger Stadium.
Longtime shortstop Cal Ripken of the Orioles is the overwhelming favorite to be the American League's All-Star starter at third base, but here are some players who could end his run of consecutive starts at 13:
Matt Williams, Indians: Four-time NL All-Star switches leagues, gets to show off in packed lineup, smaller ballparks.
Dean Palmer, Rangers: Weak defensively, but had 38 homers and 107 RBIs last season.
Ed Sprague, Blue Jays: Glove is getting better; had breakthrough year at plate with 36 homers, 101 RBIs.
Jeff Cirillo, Brewers: Led AL with 46 doubles and batted .325 but probably would need to hit .525 to get national attention.
Wade Boggs, Yankees: Not that he would deserve it, but the guy does have 11 straight All-Star starts.
Greatest of Z's
This is a banner era for that select fraternity of players with Z's in their last names:
Juan Guzman: AL ERA champion
Javier Lopez: NLCS MVP
Mike Piazza: NL MVP runner-up
Alex Rodriguez: Sporting News Player of the Year
John Smoltz: NL Cy Young Award
Greatest of Z's II
So, here are some potential award winners for this season:
NL Cy Young: Alex Fernandez or Ramon Martinez
NL strikeout leader: Pedro Martinez
NL wins leader: Kevin Ritz
NL home run leader: Henry Rodriguez
NL hits leader: Mark Grudzielanek
AL Cy Young: Roberto Hernandez
AL MVP: Ivan Rodriguez
AL batting champion: Edgar Martinez
AL Rookie of the Year: Jose Cruz Jr.
Players likely to have new addresses:
Curt Schilling: Phillies pitcher a once and future Oriole?
Darren Daulton: Catcher will find a home as a DH, perhaps at Camden Yards, assuming the Phillies pay part of his $5 million contract.
Tom Candiotti: Couldn't make packed Dodgers rotation but at 39 is virtual pup for knuckleball pitcher.
Rickey Henderson: Still a great leadoff hitter, still a clubhouse liability.
Walt Weiss: Rockies could reunite him with Bash Brothers in Oakland to open room for hot shortstop prospect Neifi Perez.
Joey Eischen: Reds pitcher is on his fifth team in 22 months. At that rate, he's the best bet on this list.
Pub Date: 3/30/97