Forget those games in Tokyo last week. They didn't matter much to most fans, anyway.
The baseball season really begins Monday afternoon, all over North America.
In the cold.
With one hot topic still on everybody's mind: steroids.
"What we need, in my opinion, is random testing year-round," commissioner Bud Selig said in an interview broadcast Sunday on ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos."
"We also need stiffer penalties. We need a program, as I said earlier, like the one that's in the minor leagues, because that will forever remove the cloud," Selig said.
Which could mean a lot to big sluggers such as Barry Bonds, constantly being asked whether steroids helped him hit all those home runs.
The San Francisco star enters the season with 658 homers, two shy of tying his godfather Willie Mays for third on the career list.
Bonds and the Giants open Monday night in Houston, highlighting nine games around the majors. Right-hander Roy Oswalt will pitch for the Astros ahead of Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens.
President Bush plans to be in St. Louis, where Albert Pujols and the Cardinals play the Brewers. It will be the first time in three years Bush throws out a ceremonial first pitch on opening day he did it when Miller Park opened in Milwaukee.
"It just shows what an occasion it is in St. Louis," Cardinals third baseman Scott Rolen said. "To have him here, it's going to be like a holiday."
Vice President Dick Cheney will throw out the first pitch in Cincinnati, where the Cubs and Reds worked out Sunday in wintry conditions at Great American Ball Park.
"Is that snow?" Cubs special assistant Gary Hughes asked.
Yes, it was.
That's bad news for Reds hitters trying to fight off Kerry Wood's fastball.
At least Ken Griffey Jr. is expected to play for Cincinnati despite straining his right calf last Monday.
After coming within five outs of their first World Series since 1945 last year, Wood and the Cubs begin this season in the unfamiliar role of National League favorites. But Chicago hasn't even had consecutive winning seasons since 1971-72.
"That's unbelievable," manager Dusty Baker said. "That seems almost impossible."
Temperatures were expected to be in the high 30s in Pittsburgh, and tickets still were available a day before the Phillies-Pirates opener.
Kevin Millwood will be on the mound for Philadelphia against Kip Wells. Jim Thome and the Phillies, favored by many to win the NL East, open their new ballpark April 12.
"We feel we have a good club. We also understand having a good club on paper is a different ballgame, too," Thome said. "We need to get out and get going."
American League Cy Young Award winner Roy Halladay pitches for the Blue Jays, who host the improved Detroit Tigers in the first game of the day.
After setting an AL record with 119 losses last season, the Tigers added Ivan Rodriguez, Rondell White, Fernando Vina and Carlos Guillen.
"I feel a sense of confidence," manager Alan Trammell said. "How that translates into numbers, I don't know. Last year, you were hoping (to win), but of course that's not going to work. This year, we're expecting to be better."
The Texas Rangers, minus Alex Rodriguez, are in Oakland to face Tim Hudson and the Athletics, minus Miguel Tejada.
At the Metrodome in Minnesota, Brad Radke was scheduled to pitch for the AL Central champion Twins against Cleveland's C.C. Sabathia.
In other games, the new-look Padres are at Los Angeles, and Kansas City hosts the Chicago White Sox.
Of course, the 2004 season actually started last week in Japan, where the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Devil Rays split two games part of baseball's effort to market the sport all around the world.
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