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Daily Spring Training Reports

So, where were we?

Moises Alou, Kevin Brown and Robb Nen were winning the World Series for the Florida Marlins.

The Milwaukee Brewers were playing in the American League. Pedro Martinez was in Montreal, Chuck Knoblauch in Minnesota and Kenny Lofton in Atlanta.

Davey Johnson still had a job. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Arizona Diamondbacks didn't have any players, not really.

Has it really been just 108 days since Edgar Renteria's two-out single in the bottom of the 11th inning ended Game 7 in Miami?

Now, it's time for the sweetest sound of spring. No, not the shush of the Olympic bobsleds nor the swish of Michael Jordan's jumper.

Those magic words that baseball fans wait all winter to hear: It's time for pitchers and catchers to report to spring training.

When camps start opening Thursday - the Marlins, Cleveland and Cincinnati will be the first to get going - much of the major league landscape will have changed.

When the Marlins, who shed 12 members of their 25-man World Series roster in a salary purge, play the first exhibition game of the year Feb. 25, many of the differences will be readily apparent.

There will be 30 teams this season. The expansion Diamondbacks and Devil Rays are well-stocked with familiar names, too.

Arizona signed Andy Benes and Jay Bell and traded for Matt Williams and Devon White, while Tampa Bay signed Roberto Hernandez, Wilson Alvarez and Wade Boggs and traded for Fred McGriff.

Good enough to contend for a playoff spot? Maybe not, but in an era in which the Marlins zoomed from novices to No. 1 in only five years, anything is possible, especially when big bucks are involved.

"We're not going to be a typical expansion team by any stretch of the imagination," Arizona owner Jerry Colangelo said.

The Diamondbacks will head two hours south of Phoenix and train in Tucson, Ariz., and the Devil Rays will work out at St. Petersburg, Fla., just a few minutes from their home field.

Several clubs will be in new places this spring. The Chicago White Sox left Sarasota, Fla., and shifted to Tucson, while the Cincinnati Reds packed up from Plant City, Fla., and moved into Sarasota.

The St. Louis Cardinals left St. Petersburg and will share a camp in Jupiter, Fla., with the Montreal Expos, who had been in West Palm Beach. The Atlanta Braves also left West Palm and will take up residence at the Disney Wide World of Sports complex in Kissimmee, Fla., near the entrance to the Magic Kingdom.

The Brewers will change suburbs in Phoenix, leaving Chandler and moving to Maryvale. Milwaukee already has shifted from the AL to the NL, marking the first team in the majors to change leagues since the 1892 season.

The Detroit Tigers also made a move, going from the AL East to the AL Central. That let Tampa Bay take its geographically correct spot in the AL East, and Arizona will join the NL West.

Not all of baseball's top players will be in action right away, however.
All-Star catcher Todd Hundley may miss the entire year because of elbow trouble and former Cy Young winner John Smoltz is expected to start the season on the disabled list because of elbow surgery.

NL MVP Larry Walker also is having elbow trouble, and ace pitchers David Cone and Kevin Appier are taking it easy. Florida pitcher Alex Fernandez will be sidelined the whole season after a torn rotator cuff finished him in the NL playoffs - at least he remained on the roster, unlike Alou, Brown, Nen, White, Al Leiter, Jeff Conine and a half-dozen others.

Brett Butler, Eddie Murray and Ryne Sandberg retired. But career saves leader Lee Smith, who retired last July, is trying a comeback with the Royals.

"I don't like sitting around doing nothing. I'm going to have to play some ball so I can relax a little bit," Smith said.

Many other big-name players have new addresses.

Martinez, the NL Cy Young winner, was traded from Montreal to Boston and signed a record $75 million, six-year contract. The Twins, who may move out of Minneapolis after this season, traded Knoblauch to the New York Yankees and Cleveland re-acquired Lofton.

Among others on the move: Darryl Kile left Houston and signed with Colorado, Marquis Grissom was traded from Cleveland to Milwaukee, Randy Myers left Baltimore and signed with Toronto and Andres Galarraga exited Colorado and signed with Atlanta. Also, Jose Canseco left Oakland for Toronto and Cecil Fielder moved from the Yankees to Anaheim.

Among the young players to watch: Todd Helton (Colorado), Paul Konerko (Los Angeles), Carl Pavano (Montreal), Ben Grieve (Oakland) and free agent Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez, a Cuban refugee and older brother of World Series MVP Livan Hernandez of the Marlins.

The roster of managers has changed. So might the strike zone as umpires, once again, are pushed to call higher strikes and speed up games.

Ray Miller got the job in Baltimore after AL Manager of the Year Davey Johnson left in a feud with Orioles owner Peter Angelos. Marlins coach Jerry Manuel was hired by the White Sox and Tim Johnson took over in Toronto.

Buck Showalter will be back on the field, after a two-year absence, in Arizona. Former Marlins pitching coach Larry Rothschild will lead the Devil Rays.

For sure, a whole lot of changes in what seemed like an incredibly short offseason. For some, though, the down time was still too much.

"I was ready to go in November," said Yankees pitcher Willie Banks, who made a late-season splash. "To be honest, I couldn't wait to get going again."

©1998 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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