By Jim Caple
Page 2

Felipe Alou's first season opener was 50 years ago this spring, and in between answering questions about You Know Who on Monday, the San Francisco manager talked about that long-ago season in 1956. He played for the Giants' farm team in Lake Charles, La., that year, though to say he "played" isn't quite accurate. He only batted nine times for Lake Charles before the Giants reassigned him to another team because of a local law prohibiting blacks from playing on the same field with whites. So during the games in Lake Charles, until he was reassigned, "I sat in the bleachers with the other colored people," Alou said.

Filing out of Alou's office a couple minutes later, I overheard another reporter remark, "That would be a great story if it wasn't for [You Know Who]."

The reporter was wrong about that. Not only is it a great story, it's a much better story than You Know Who.

I'm sorry, but I'm sick and tired of hearing about steroids and syringes and You Know Know closing in on a home run mark that was set 32 years ago. As San Diego's Dave Roberts asked, can we just move on?

Felipe Alou
AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh
Why don't we focus on the feel-good stories, like Felipe Alou?

"The government intervened and Mr. Selig went ahead with the [steroid] testing and made it more stern than it's ever been, [stronger] than any testing, and we've abided by that and want to live by that," Roberts said. "You would hope that would be it, said and done, but it's not."

Well, let the other people who are never satisfied by anything baseball does poke around at the wounds. The rest of us will move on and focus on the excitement of Opening Day and a new season, thank you. Sometimes it's much better to take a step back, look around and appreciate how good we have it.

That's what Mike Cameron did Monday. The Padres outfielder walked through his new team's grand, circular clubhouse and glanced up at a ring of TVs, all tuned to season openers from around the league. "Man," he said, "it's just like a sports bar in here."

Indeed. Flat-screen TVs. Baseball games from Cincinnati, Los Angeles, Seattle and Texas. Plenty of comfortable chairs. A full meal before and after the game. Candy and fruit and juice for the asking. Sheesh, all that was missing was a tight-shorted waitress serving beer and buffalo wings. Although I think the players will be demanding precisely that in the next collective bargaining agreement.

And if Cameron, an 11-year vet who once hit four home runs in a game, was that impressed, imagine how the Cuban players felt when they walked into the same clubhouse for the World Baseball Classic finale.

Sometimes you just have to pinch yourself to make sure it's not a dream.

Like when you see a fan who has shaved a bald spot on the top of his head and then donned a brown friar's robe and sandals. "I do this every opener," the fan said before ducking away to pose for a photo.

A guy shaves his head like an old monk every year for the season opener, and people wonder whether baseball will be able to survive the steroid scandal? Please. This game has roots so deep they run down even below the Pittsburgh Pirates' cellar.

No matter how much the critics moan, we don't need to worry about baseball. The game re-establishes itself April after April, generation after generation. Alou, who had to watch his own team's games from the "colored" section, now not only manages the Giants, but his son Moises plays right field for him. You Know Who, the son of Bobby Bonds and the godson of Willie Mays, starts in left field for Felipe. Lance Niekro, son of Joe and nephew of Phil, plays first base for him.

Josh Barfield
AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi
Josh Barfield (left) is off to a great start in his major-league career.

And across the diamond, Josh Barfield, son of Jesse, made his major league debut at second base for the Padres.

I don't know how Jesse Barfield can possibly be old enough to have a son in the majors -- wasn't it just yesterday when he was in his prime with the Blue Jays? -- but 50 years from now, Josh can tell reporters about the day he caught the ceremonial first pitch from Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush, singled for his first hit, scored what proved to be the game-winning run and then answered questions in a major league clubhouse next to his beaming father.

"I've prepared for this my entire life," Josh told reporters. "This is all I've ever wanted. And now I can say I'm a major leaguer."

Congratulations on joining a very special club, Josh, and have a great career. Treat the game with the respect it deserves, always give it your best, and you'll be fine.

As for the rest of us, well, we'll just sit here rooting on our teams, trying to take it all in and waiting for the waitress to come by with the wings and beer.

LIES, DAMN LIES AND STATISTICS
These things can only happen to a Chicago team. The White Sox won the World Series for the first time in 88 years last season, but their reign as world champions didn't even last until Opening Day. That's because Japan won the World Baseball Classic, which Chicago manager Ozzie Guillen acknowledges makes Japan the world champ since "they're the last one to win."

Naturally, that isn't all Ozzie has to say on the subject.

"But now the Japanese people think they're good. Nah, they're not that good. Sorry," Ozzie said. "The [WBC] win was by the team that was prepared best. Japan and Cuba were better prepared than anyone else. They had more time to practice. The team was together a long time and the Cuban team knew it was going to play in the World Classic. But those two teams, they're not that good. They have maybe a couple players who are OK, but they play 162 games at this level, they might win 20 games.

"Ozzie talking s--- again, huh? But that's the truth. I know a little bit about this game. They think they're good. They're great, they play good baseball, fundamental baseball. They play great for one week, two weeks. But if they come over here we'll kick their ass. They play 162 games here in any division, they'll finish last. I don't want Fidel to get cocky about this s---, either. They're not that good."

Nice to see Ozzie is in midseason form already, isn't it?

BOX SCORE LINE OF THE WEEK
Japan's WBC team may not have impressed Ozzie all that much -- but then again, Japan was playing without catcher Kenji Johjima, second baseman Tadahito Iguchi and, most importantly, outfielder Hideki Matsui. Those three declined to play in the WBC so they could focus on their major league teams. It seemed to pay off early for Johjima, who homered in his first two games for the Mariners, and for Matsui, who posted this award-winning line on Opening Day for the Yankees:

4 AB, 3 R, 4 H, 4 RBI

By the way, Matsui played in his 1,789th consecutive game (counting his time in Japan) despite a sore left knee that may eventually force him to end his streak this season. If not, he'll still need to keep it going until 2011 to break Cal Ripken Jr.'s record, though that might require an asterisk so large not even You Know Who could lift it.

Jim Caple is a senior writer at ESPN.com. His first book, "The Devil Wears Pinstripes," is on sale at bookstores nationwide. It also can be ordered through his Web site, Jimcaple.com. Sound off to Page 2 here.




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