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MLB's season opens today with 12 games on its schedule. With a winter storm hitting the Northeast, MLB's decision to start east coast teams on the west coast and in as many "warm-weather sites as possible" may pay, according to Murray Chass of the N.Y. TIMES. AL VP Derek Irwin: "We're going to prove to be very smart with the warm-weather schedule we have this year" (N.Y. TIMES, 4/1). With the season's start, writers commented on the state of the game: RENAISSANCE OR BUST? In Chicago, Dave Van Dyck called it the "year of the Dove. A time for healing." Van Dyck: "The game wants to clean up its act, as if it were as simple as dusting off home plate before Tuesday's first inning" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 3/31). In N.Y., Mike Lupica: "It is all going to be quite good, starting this week. All people who have spent the last few years proclaiming the game finished, please take not" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 3/30). But in Minneapolis, Jim Souhan: "Ugliness remains. ... baseball has become identified as the game of greed and disrespect" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 3/31). Also in Minneapolis, Jay Weiner, in an extensive piece entitled, "Can Baseball Survive In The 21st Century?" asks: "On the Opening Day, this Question Lingers: Can Baseball Preserve Such a Norman Rockwellian Past As the Nation Zooms to an Information-Age Future?" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 4/1). On ESPN's "The Sports Reporters," Michael Wilbon: "Baseball, like PBS and Cadillac, better find some fans under 65 years old, or we're going to find out they're in serious trouble still coming off the strike even though its three years later" ("The Sports Reporters," 3/30). In Sacramento, Mark Kreidler: "Every step now is a tentative one; this is a sport suddenly searching for its market after decades of knowing what it was without needing to ask" (SACRAMENTO BEE, 3/29). HERE'S TO YOU, MR. ROBINSON: The celebration of Jackie Robinson's 50th anniversary of breaking the MLB color barrier was featured throughout the U.S., with special sections in many large-market papers. On the N.Y. TIMES' front-page on Sunday, Claire Smith wrote that "even as baseball begins a season of tribute to Mr. Robinson ... many in the sport express concern that baseball is disconnected from the black athletes he paved the way for and the black fans who watched him. ... While black Americans may no longer be disenfranchised by baseball, they are increasingly disinclined to play the sport" (N.Y. TIMES, 3/30). In DC, Mark Maske wrote "the game's leaders admit there is plenty of work to do to ensure that minorities have equal opportunities off the field." Hall of Famer and former manager Frank Robinson: "It's discrimination, but it's covered up a little better now. It's not as open as it was years ago" (WASHINGTON POST, 3/28).
MLS opened its second season with lower attendance and goal scoring, but also with "higher-quality play," according to Jere Longman of the N.Y. TIMES. Longman notes that this year, MLS "will have to survive on the caliber of its play, not the novelty of its existence" (N.Y. TIMES, 4/1). Attendance for six matches this season has averaged 21,272, "considerably behind" the 33,598 for a similar period last year, but ahead of MLS Commissioner Doug Logan's 20,000 projection for the season. Logan called Kansas City "a little soft," noting the Wizards' opening game attendance of 10,196 (Jerry Langdon, USA TODAY, 3/31). In Boston, the GLOBE's Frank Dell'Apa: "Major League Soccer's novelty effect appears to have subsided judging by attendance, which was mostly unimpressive during the first week of the season. ... Now, substance is becoming the criteria to attract fans and maintain credibility" (BOSTON GLOBE, 4/1). But the GLOBE's Will McDonough, on an expected crowd of 54,000 for a World Cup qualifier/MLS doubleheader on April 20 at Foxboro: "It's hard to believe how soccer interest has developed here in such a short time" (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/29). In L.A., the Galaxy-United game drew 53,147 (L.A. TIMES, 3/30).
Media reactions continue over NBA Commissioner David Stern's $25,000 fining of Nets Coach John Calipari and $2,500 fining of Heat radio broadcaster David Halberstam for remarks made last week. GOOD CALL? In N.Y., NEWSDAY's Shaun Powell, on Calipari: "He got what he deserved: Tons of bad publicity, plenty of sleepless nights, added stress." Powell: "He didn't deserve to lose his job or get a suspension, and a single mistake shouldn't become a scarlet letter" (NEWSDAY, 3/28). The BOSTON GLOBE's Peter May notes that the NBPA "dared the league" to do something about Calipari's comments, two days before the fine (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/30). In DC, Leonard Shapiro: "Broadcasters shouldn't come under the commissioner's jurisdiction, and shouldn't be on team payrolls in the first place, even if it's clearly the trend in pro sports these days" (WASHINGTON POST, 3/28). In San Diego, Fritz Quindt, on Stern: "Nice precedent he's setting. Honk if you think it goes beyond the power vested in someone who puts his signature on a basketball" (UNION-TRIBUNE, 3/31). In N.Y., Bob Raissman: "Announcers are always faced with walking a tightrope. Stern's ruling may lead some voices to feel the rope is greased. With the NBA setting this precedent, might other leagues follow suit?" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 3/28). In Dallas, Cathy Harasta noted that Stern's decision -- "though the fines were skimpy,"-- indicated he felt the NBA "must be vigilant about what is said, even if the remarks go beyond the game" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 3/29). In S.F., David Steele noted the NBA "stepped way beyond the normal and accepted boundaries of corporate America. It's about time somebody did" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 4/1). In Utah, Brad Rock: "The fines were important for two reasons: first, because the NBA sent a clear message that it won't tolerate racially offensive remarks; second, those employed by the league or its teams are now accountable for what they say, even if the remarks aren't directly about basketball" (DESERET NEWS, 3/28). NET RESULT: In a meeting with Nets execs yesterday, Calipari received a formal letter of reprimand for his comments, according to Selena Roberts in the N.Y. TIMES. The team did not levy an additional fine to the NBA's, and "there was no apparent move" to force Calipari to "relinquish" some "power and control" (N.Y. TIMES, 4/1). BOOK REPORT: A Pocket Books publication called "Money Wars: Days and Nights in the NBA," by Armen Keteyian, Harvey Araton and Martin Dardis will be released next Tuesday. It includes two chapters focusing on some of the "turbulent events" surrounding Michael Jordan's '93 retirement. Keteyian: "There are two chapters specifically, out of 20 ... that deal with Michael Jordan" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 4/1).