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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

First Pitch for Baseball, Old and New

NEW YORK -- Even with the great Hideki Irabu half a world away and still a superstar only in our imagination, baseball will begin as usual Tuesday.

There still could be enough new and wonderful and quirky things going on to hold our interest for 162 games and beyond.

This is a different kind of year. The New York Yankees will play the New York Mets, and heads might roll if the defending world champions should lose the first regular-season Subway Series to those uninspiring, unlucky Mets. Old rivalries will be played out. The Chicago Cubs will play the Chicago White Sox, who at least had the good sense to remove a billboard that disparaged their better-liked, northside antagonist.

Baseball's new twist will add spice to the sport on the comeback trail. It is a time to celebrate the greatest innovation of them all, the 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the major league's color barrier. The way things have been going and going, the guess is the celebration will include a lot of home runs. Unless somebody took the juice out of the baseballs, it wouldn't shock baseball folks if even more home runs are hit this year than last -- when 4,962 were hit and a record was set.

One of the big questions is whether the Yankees can repeat their magic, and whether Wade Boggs will get to play electric horseman again. No matter what, the soap-operatic Yankees will provide plenty of action. George Steinbrenner came to Florida excited and bubbly but had transformed into a tyrannical fellow by the end of an otherwise successful spring camp. Apparently, Steinbrenner misses Irabu. He just misses him a little more than most of us.

Nobody really believes that Steinbrenner has given up the chase, but even without Irabu, the Yankees are solid and star-studded, a rare combination.

The Baltimore Orioles, with owner Peter Angelos doing his best Steinbrenner impersonation, are expected to provide Steinbrenner's men the most angst. Once they get past their first five games without their designated spitter, Roberto Alomar, the Orioles will field a more together team now that Bobby Bonilla has moved to a new league, far away from his antagonist Davey Johnson.

The defection of Albert Belle from Cleveland to Chicago for $55 million ignited a labor deal and may cause war within the AL Central.

The Seattle Mariners are the fashionable AL choice, and with their lineup and the smart pickup of underrated lefthander Jeff Fassero, it is no wonder.

The retooled pitching powerhouse Atlanta Braves and the restocked Florida Marlins are expected to battle atop the National League East. The Braves still have the best pitching plus those two emerging Jones guys; Andruw and Chipper.

St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa spiced up a hopelessly mediocre NL Central by guaranteeing a crown. The Houston Astros have Larry Dierker, a broadcaster who became a manager, while the Cincinnati Reds have Deion Sanders, a football player who became a baseball player again.

The Colorado Rockies will hit a few home runs, the Los Angeles Dodgers will pitch a few good games, and maybe the San Francisco Giants can avoid the cellar for the first time in three years. And as for the San Diego Padres, they still hold the rights to Irabu, which means a lot of people will be watching them closely.