<
>

On Opening Day, snow and a call from Rose

I was thrilled to be in Cincinnati on Monday for the opening of the Great American Ballpark, the Reds' new home. Because of my connection to the city and the Reds, it was great to be there. It's a beautiful ballpark, and I believe it will be home-run friendly. The ball seems to carry well to right field, so I expect Ken Griffey Jr. to have a fantastic season.

This Opening Day invariably brought back memories of my playing days in Cincinnati. I began my career with the Astros and spent seven seasons in Houston before going to the Reds.


In 1972, my first year in Cincinnati, I woke up on Opening Day excited to play my first game with the Reds -- but it was snowing. So I went back to bed. About an hour later, Pete Rose called me and said, "Joe, where are you?" I said, "I'm home." He replied, "You better get here." I said, "Pete, it's snowing outside!" He said, "Joe, you better get here."

I jumped up, got dressed and went to the ballpark. Sure enough, as soon as it stopped snowing, the grounds crew cleaned up the AstroTurf with a Zamboni machine, and we played the game. So I learned that they don't let the weather dictate things in Cincinnati -- they just play ball.

On Monday it was cold, too, but it was bearable -- and no snow, thankfully ... although there was snow in Baltimore for the Indians-Orioles opener!

The Great American Ballpark has its own unique flavor that distinguishes it from other parks. The park features 101 attractions besides the field itself -- restaurants and shops as well as statues and mosaics that pay tribute to the Reds' past. Cincinnati is the oldest professional baseball franchise, and that history is well-chronicled at the new park.

Due to its status as the oldest professional team, Cincinnati used to start the season before any other team. That was the case during my time with the Reds from 1972-79, but that tradition was discontinued sometime later. I'm not exactly sure why, but like lots of other baseball traditions, it's been overlooked.

Opening Day in Cincinnati was like no other. It was almost like a religion. Everything stopped. There was a festive parade followed by the ballgame. And for students, if you had a ticket to the game, it was like a get-out-of-school-free card. Schools allowed students to see the Reds on Opening Day if they had tickets -- that's how important Opening Day was in Cincinnati. It was a special time.

Predictions? No Thanks
Every year people want me to predict who will win the division titles and the World Series, but I refuse to get sucked into that.

The baseball season is so long -- nearly twice as many games as other pro sports -- and along the way, key players can get hurt. A team with the best talent in April might not have the best talent in September. Also, unexpected positives can occur -- a young player might have a career year. You never can tell. Case in point: Who picked the Angels to win last year? Basically, your guess is as good as mine. In October, all the experts end up saying, "I didn't really mean that in April."

Derek Jeter's injury is an example of the unknowns involved in making predictions. Whenever a team loses a player of Jeter's caliber, it has ramifications for the division/postseason race. The Yankees can afford to lose a star more than any other team because of the depth their payroll allows, but no team -- the Yankees included -- can afford to lose a star player for an extended time. The Yankees aren't head and shoulders above everyone else this season as they have been in the past.

If Jeter is out for any length of time, it will definitely make a difference.

Closer-by-committee? Give it time
Some fans will look at the Red Sox closer-by-committee blowing leads late in their first two games and say it doesn't work (one writer called it a "choker-by-committee"). But it's too early to tell. Even the best closers will blow leads.

In fact, last year on Opening Day, Boston had an 11-8 lead heading into the fifth inning against the Blue Jays -- and lost the game 12-11 when closer Ugueth Urbina blew it in the ninth.

The bigger question is, does Boston's bullpen committee have the right mix? There's nothing wrong with the concept. I plan to watch the Red Sox situation closely, because I believe the single-closer system is overrated. Boston's experiment will yield one set of results that we can compare with other teams. So stay tuned.

Instant offense
I'm surprised that seven games featured double-digit runs on the first two days of the season. Check out the scores: (Monday) Expos 10, Braves 2; Cubs 15, Mets 2; Pirates 10, Reds 1; Cardinals 11, Brewers 9; (Tuesday) Yankees 10, Blue Jays 1; Angels 10, Rangers 0; Astros 10, Rockies 4.

Normally, the beginning of the season favors pitchers, because pitchers are usually ahead of hitters coming out of spring training. Hitters tend to flourish more in warmer weather, while cold weather favors pitchers. When the season starts, hitters are used to hitting in the warmth of Florida and Arizona, and then many go north to colder climates. But this year's offensive onslaught (so far) tells me that hitters are adjusting better and more prepared.

This is unusual, though it's too early to say whether it's a trend.

Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan won back-to-back World Series with the Reds. He is a baseball analyst on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball and contributes a weekly column to ESPN.com.