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ELEPHANTS, HOME RUNS AND TRIBUTES MARK OPENING WEEK

Michael Kiral / L’Observateur / April 8, 1998

Blame it on El Nino.

If the first week of the baseball season is any indication, expect the unexpected this summer.

Already, Cincinnati’s Pokey Reese has tied a dubious major league record by committing four errors on opening day. The elephant the Reds brought infor the pregame festivities perhaps could have done better and would be the dream of every major league owner – it would be willing to work for peanuts.

The New York Mets have already played 13 and 14 inning ballgames, the latter setting the National League record for the longest scoreless game on opening day. The Mets and Philadelphia filled the scoreboard with gooseeggs until Alberto Castillo singled with two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the 14th.

The defending world champion Florida Marlins opened the season with a victory over the Chicago Cubs, but in what will probably be an indication of what is to come for the Marlins this season, even the good was tempered by the bad. Catcher Charles Johnson’s major league record of172 games without an error came to an end with a throwing error in the first inning. With the program sales the Marlins will have with fans tryingto keep up with all the new players on the roster, Florida probably could have kept one its heroes from last year.

Through Saturday, Mark McGwire was on pace to hit 162 home runs and have a 162-game hitting streak, tying Willie Mays’ record of homering in the each of the first four games of the season. Ken Griffey Jr. is not farbehind with three home runs in the first week of the season. Roger Maris’s37-year-old record of 61 home runs could be in serious jeopard although both McGwire and Griffey have a long ways to go.

The new expansion teams started the season on different notes, with Tampa Bay winning four of its first six games while Arizona finally broke through for its first-ever win Sunday against San Francisco after five losses. Hey, at least it came before a national audience on ESPN.Tampa Bay has also been involved in two of the strangest events this season, both on Saturday. First, the power went out in Tropicana Field,causing a delay. Then Chicago’s Frank Thomas hits a fly ball that strikes acatwalk in left field and lands over the fence. The umpires ruled it a homerun, leading to the first protest in the Devil Rays’ history. In their firstweek of existence.

Natives of the River Parishes played a factor in the first week of the season. East St. John graduate Gerald Williams scored the winning run inhis Atlanta Braves debut Tuesday, and did it against the team he was traded from this past season – the Milwaukee Brewers. And Lutcher’sLenny Webster hit two home runs against Kansas City Wednesday, helping lead Baltimore to a 10-1 victory.

And what a difference a year makes. Who would have thought the ChicagoCubs, who started 1997 with 14 straight losses, would create the most memorable moments so far in the 1998 season. The Cubs honored HarryCaray Friday as his widow, Dutchie, sang his anthem “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh inning stretch. Afterwards, blue and whiteballoons were released as a bagpipe played “Amazing Grace.”And as for the Cubs, all they have done is start the season with a 5-1 record, the second-best record in baseball through Sunday. Caray must belooking down smiling. Too bad he is not here enjoying it. It looks like it isgoing to be his kind of season.

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