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MONTREAL EXPOS
NL EAST

Everyone loves the Expos, they have to - the Expos are everyone's team. Let me explain. The Expos are actually owned and operated by the 29 other clubs that make up Major League Baseball. But what is particularly interesting here, the Expos are being run professionally for the first time in over a decade. Without revolving door ownership, without player fire sales, without ballpark politics, and without lack-luster management. Historically speaking, this season will go into the record books without modern precedent. Let's recap Spring Training leading to the season opener on April 2.

With only eight days before the start of Spring Training, the Expos found themselves without a General Manager, without a Field Manager, without scouting staff or training staff, almost no office staff, not even the computers with last years' team data were left. Just about barren. Aside from the players themselves, there were only about six employees left in the organization. When previous owner Jeffrey Loria sold the team back to Major League Baseball, he pretty much cleaned out the place before leaving - he took it all, alive or inanimate, bolted down or not - right down to the last team signed jersey.

But to the surprise of all fans in baseball, the Expos have managed to put together a pretty exciting club for this, perhaps their very last, season. For a start, they've managed to coerce Hall of Fame great Frank Robinson to be the Field Manager and offered Omar Minaya from the Mets organization the challenging position of General Manager. An opportunity not to be passed up, Minaya has been busy putting the rest of the pieces together, from trainers to scouts, all while keeping aware of the team needs on the field as well. Robinson has been pretty low key in Spring Training, taking his time to get refamiliarized with managing.
 
Omar is a ball of fire. With so little time, and most talent signed months ago, he still managed to invite some interesting players to Spring Training camp. He's giving some baseball veterans a chance at one last hurrah this season. Invitees included Jose Canseco, Lance Johnson, and former Expos Andres Galarraga and Henry Rodriguez. He managed to trade utility man Geoff Blum for Chris Truby to shore up the third base spot since Fernando Tatis still may not be ready in April. He's thinking, he's acting, and things are happening.

Meanwhile, up in Montreal, a brand new turf is being installed in the Olympic Stadium. It's about time. The latest generation of Astro Grass, it is the same type of removable turf the Blue Jays play on at Skydome in Toronto. It may not be the very best in artificial turfs, but it's remove-ability was a key deciding factor. It will certainly be better than the old, tired, and seam-strewn stuff they've been playing on for far too long.

But with all he progress the team has made in short order, there's still a lot to do. The Expos need CF Peter Bergeron to become a solid leadoff hitter. A promising minor league star, he still hasn't bloomed in the majors. His hurdles seem to be psychological, but he's getting some help in that area with increased mental batting preparation in addition to traditional coaching.

Second base will be covered by Josť Vidro, who is always a threat at bat (.319), actually beating out RF Vladimir Guerrero (.307) last year for the team batting leader. Gold Glove winner Orlando Cabrera, will easily handle short, and is a pretty good clutch hitter too at .276 with 96 RBIs. Lee Stevens will start at first, and catching will be held down by Michael Barrett, spelled by Brian Schneider, probably a couple of times a week. Schneider has been hitting very well in the Grapefruit League this spring. Left field will be covered by either the vet Canseco, or rookie Brad Wilkerson. Wilkerson had some shoulder trouble at the start of Spring Training, but is finishing up very strong.

And the team is looking pretty good defensively too. Ace Javier Vazquez is looking aimed at a 20 win season. Carl Pavano has looked good in Spring Training, and will hopefully continue and remain healthy for a full season. Tony Armas will be the third starter with the Japanese duo of Tomo Ohka and Masato Yoshii rounding out the starting rotation. Rookie Zach Day and veteran Britt Reames are also possible starters, if any of the others falter.

Having contraction be the hot topic of the off season certainly hasn't helped ticket sales up in Montreal. Undaunted, management remains focused on the game and the team, plain and simple. Minaya continues to add depth to an already reasonable starting lineup. Montreal loves a winner, and winning is number "one" on the agenda. Fielding a winning team will certainly help bring fans to the "Big O" and with 94 losses last year, there's pretty much no where to go but up. Unlike their tradition of bringing new talent into the league, the Expos are living for the moment: no long term stuff, no going down any roads - the horizon is here, now.

The 2002 season will be interesting to say the least. The media is taking a close look at the situation, unique as it is. Everyone will be looking at the players, in some sense, playing a 162 game scouting exhibit. Yet one has to wonder about next year. What events may unfold this season? If there is some optimism for the Expos to remain a team, it may be in another city - top contenders being Washington, DC or perhaps northern Virginia. That scenario alone puts a whole new perspective on matters, and unless the contraction issue is dropped completely, it may once again end up thrusting a pair of ballclubs into the stew pot come fall.

-Ed Wolfstein

Ed Wolfstein is a free lance photographer and life long Expos fan.  You can see some of his work on our "pics" page and at his homepage, linked below.

ED WOLFSTEIN's Homepage.

INTERESTED IN GETTING PUBLISHED???  DO A 2002 PREVIEW OF YOUR FAVORITE TEAM(S).  E-MAIL THE EDITOR AT  simplybaseballnotebook@hotmail.com to get more info.


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MINNESOTA TWINS
AL CENTRAL

The Minnesota Twins were one of the biggest surprises in baseball last season finishing second in the AL Central. The main goal for the Twins going into what could be their final season is to win the division. For the first time since 1986 the Twins will be led by someone other than Tom Kelly. Ron Gardenhire was chosen as the Twins skipper in the beginning of January, he had been the team's third base coach since 1991. Gardenhire will mostly likely follow the same philosophy as his predecessor, focusing on pitching and defense. During what was probably the craziest off season for the Twins in the history of their organization, the Twins will be fielding a very similar look come opening day.

Going into Spring Training the two major questions surrounding the team will be who will fill the hole in right field, and can the bullpen be consistent throughout the year. Brian Buchanan is the leading candidate to start in right field going into camp. Buchanan has the power that the Twins are looking for, but is average in the field at best. Bobby Kielty, Michael Cuddyer, and Dustan Mohr will be pushing Buchanan for the starting spot all of camp. Kielty a switch hitter could give Gardenhire a versatile bat in the lineup and a solid glove in the field. Cuddyer and Restovich both highly acclaimed prospects might still be a year or two away, but could make the team with solid showing in camp. As all Twins fans know the demise of the bullpen in the second half of the season contributed greatly to the teams slide. Latroy Hawkins was the leader of that group struggling to not only save games, but to get the ball over the plate. He will be replaced by Eddie Guardado as the teams new closer. Guardado came in late in the season and was nearly perfect in this role. The one problem with this move is the Twins used "Everyday Eddie" as a setup man nearly every game, and will need someone to step up and fill that roll. The Twins hope that lefthander Travis Miller coming off his best season will be able to fill part of that roll, along with newly acquired right-hander Mike Jackson.

The Twins strength again this year will be with their starting pitching staff. The staff includes what could be one of the best in all of baseball carrying three aces. Brad Radke will be a consistent starter and gives the team a solid outing in almost every start. Eric Milton and Joe Mays are two of the most exciting young pitchers in the game; they can take over and dominate against any lineup in baseball. The fourth spot will be occupied by last years late season acquisition Rick Reed. Reed, who struggled adapting to American league hitters in the stretch run, showed signs late in the season that he could be a solid fourth starter. The final spot in the rotation will be a battle between Kyle Lohse the incumbent, and Adam Johnson the second pick in the 2000 draft. Lohse showed signs of being a solid starter, but also looked lost at times last year. Johnson who has all of the tools to be one of the best, needs to work on being more consistent throwing strikes and keeping his composure on the mound.

The infield has an exciting young star at every position. Doug Mientkiewicz (1B), coming off a very solid season where he won a gold glove and solidified himself as the team's most consistent bat in the lineup. Luis Rivas (2B) and Christian Guzman (SS) are not only a very exciting double play combination they are equally exciting running the bases. Both can extend a routine double into a triple at anytime, in fact Guzman has lead the league in triples the last two seasons. Guzman, coming off an All Star season, is looking to put himself into the same class as Derek Jeter and A Rod as the league's best shortstops. Corey Koskie (3B) hit 26 home runs and stole

27 bases and is a solid fielder. Denny Hocking and Jay Canizaro will be the teams utility infielders as well as pinch hitters. A.J. Pierzynski, not only showed he could handle a young pitching staff behind the plate, he showed decent power and clutch hitting at the plate.

Torri Hunter (CF) and Jacque Jones (LF) can be seen nightly making spectacular diving, and over-the-wall catches. Hunter, who also won a gold glove, showed last season he is the best defensive center fielder in the league. He needs to be more patient at the plate, reducing the number of strike outs, while continuing to build on his team leading 27 home runs a year ago. Jacque Jones needs to show that he can consistently hit left handed pitching, and improve on his base running. Jones, who worked with future Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn this off season, could have a break out year and help solidify the bottom half of the batter order or bat leadoff. David Ortiz (DH) is looking to rebound from a mid season injury that ruined what looked like a very promising start to last season.

The Twins are going into what could be one of the strangest seasons in baseball history. They will be playing in front of enthusiastic crowds again while battling for a division crown in what could be the last run for this organization. The players, manager, and G.M. cannot control the fate of the Twins, but they can control what happens on the field. This could ultimately decide how the fans react to helping fund a stadium and keeping alive the only organization that has brought a major sports championship to the Twin Cities.

-Brian Zingler

INTERESTED IN GETTING PUBLISHED???  DO A 2002 PREVIEW OF YOUR FAVORITE TEAM(S).  E-MAIL THE EDITOR AT  simplybaseballnotebook@hotmail.com to get more info.


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