Forget about robins and cherry blossoms and those spongy yellow marshmallow bunnies that taste like how pussy willows look. It's the first crack of the bat that's the true harbinger of spring.
Because this IS the next year that everybody talked about all winter, and every team has been born anew with a theoretical chance to WIN IT ALL, SMOKE THE BIG CHEESE, EVISCERATE THE LIZARD (except of course, for the Montreal Expos, who are on track to be mathematically eliminated early next week).
Here are my predictions for which teams will be huddling around the table reaching for that serrated lizard knife.
American League East
Yankees. Damn Yankees. Dirty Stinking Rotten Lousy Yankees. I know. I know. I'm not happy about it either. But hey, who's that fat guy casting a shadow over Fenway? Why, isn't that Mo Vaughan? Hey Steinbrenner, watch out for Boston.
American League Central
Cleveland's resurgence since they moved to Jacobs Field still doesn't include a World Series ring. They also don't have much pitching or any protection for Jim Thome, but this could be the year they start window shopping for some jewelry. They ain't going to end up with it, but they will go shopping.
American League West
Every year one team surprises the hell out of everybody by rising out from under the trash heap to make a seemingly impossible run, and this season its the Texas Rangers who are going to shake off the stigma of Alex Rodriguez's contract to do just that. But watch the Texas heat suck the MPH out of their pitchers in August. Oakland takes the west.
National League East
Mets. Damn Mets. Dirty Stinking Rotten Lousy Mets. Did you see them load up like a John Goodman at an all-you-can-eat popcorn shrimp buffet this winter? Burnitz. Estes. Jeez pete. Poor Atlanta loses the East for the first time since hair started growing out of Bobby Cox's ears, but they take the wild card.
National League Central
I really would like to say Milwaukee Brewers because I always believe in predicting with your heart rather than your head, but I got to go with the Cardinals. Naww, screw it, the Cubs.
National League West
If Johnson and Schilling stay healthy, the Diamondbacks win on paper, but they don't play on paper do they? No they don't. Because if they did play on paper, few people would wander down to the stadium and hardly anybody would buy those fancy replica uniforms. So let's go with Dusty's Misfits. Ladies and Gentlemen, the San Francisco Giants. As long as its not the Dodgers.
AL: Yankees beat the Athletics again. Red Sox beat Indians. Sox beat Yankees.
NL: Mets beat Cubs. Giants beat Braves. Giants beat Mets.
World Series: Giants beat Red Sox. Hey a guy, can dream, can't he?
Will Durst imagines Attorney General John Ashcroft is in the dugout just itching for the chance to throw out the First Amendment.