The 2005 Major League Baseball season opens Sunday with the reigning World Series champion Boston Red Sox taking on their archrivals, the New York Yankees in New York. The season opens with a new team in Washington, D.C. and the specter of drug use still clouding the game.
Last season, the Boston Red Sox team that called itself the Idiots came back from three games down and toppled the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series. The Red Sox then swept the Saint Louis Cardinals to win the World Series for the first time since 1918.
Johnny Damon of Boston - who hit a grand slam home run in game seven of last year's American League championships - says that this year's team is determined to make sure there is not another 86-year gap between their championships. "We want a [World Series] repeat. And we know that the Yankees improved their team. And they are definitely the team we are shooting for. And we did win the World Series. And it was so sweet, and guess what, we do not want it to end any time soon," he said.
The Red Sox have made some changes to the lineup that won the title last year, including sending pitcher Pedro Martinez to the New York Mets in the off season. In his place, veteran pitcher David Wells - formerly of the New York Yankees - was added to the roster.
Wells played for the San Diego Padres last year, but spent four seasons in New York, including when they beat Boston in the American League Championship Series in 2003.
The Yankees are out to prove Boston's win last year was a fluke. As part of that quest, New York acquired its own firepower in the off-season - left-handed pitcher Randy Johnson of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Manager Joe Torre says Johnson brings an element that the Yankees need this season. "I have a sense that Randy Johnson, you know the many different clubs he has been with, and he's been to the World Series, he has won the World Series - he seems pretty comfortable," he said.
The Yankees have also acquired former Florida Marlins pitcher Carlos Pavano, who beat New York in the 2003 World Series. Johnson and Wells - both over age 40 - will start game one Sunday night.
Meanwhile, the newest team in the Major Leagues - the Washington Nationals - opens its season on the road when it plays the Philadelphia Phillies Monday.
The Nationals were the Montreal Expos last season, but the other teams actually owned the franchise. In the off-season, owners granted Washington the franchise, returning Major League Baseball to the U.S. capital city for the first time in 33 years. General Manager Jim Bowden says his team hopes to give Washington fans something to cheer this year. "You know it is a work in progress. You know last year we had the second worst record in the League. So you know how much work we had to do to get to where we want to get to. But it is going to take time, but I think that we continue every day to make some progress," he said.
The 2005 season opens against the backdrop of continuing investigations over alleged steroid use by players. All-time single-season home run king Barry Bonds of San Francisco is off the field with a knee injury after spending the off-season deflecting questions about his possible use of steroids.
Last month, players, union head Donald Fehr and Commissioner Bud Selig faced tough questions during a daylong Congressional hearing on steroid use in baseball.
Baseball enjoys a special exemption and tax status in the United States because the sport, known as "America's pastime," has a significant place in American cultural history. Congress has considered withdrawing that special status if baseball does not institute tougher anti-doping policies.