Derek Jeter dances around the word, almost afraid it might bring a jinx.
Let others call his New York Yankees a dynasty. Let them compare this team with the ones of Ruth, DiMaggio and Mantle. He's too busy trying to achieve greatness to boast.
''You don't really sit and dwell on how many championships we've won in the past,'' Jeter said. ''We've had a good run. I don't see any reason why it can't continue.''
Only 25, the All-Star shortstop has earned three World Series rings. And as the Yankees try to become the first team to win three in a row since the 1972-74 Athletics, all of baseball is asking: Can these Yankees be stopped?
''I'm sure a lot of people, not just us but teams in the National League, are trying to find ways to beat them,'' Texas general manager Doug Melvin said.
Ken Griffey Jr. hopes so. Traded from Seattle to his hometown Cincinnati Reds, he's eager to win a title -- and not the one for beating out Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa in the Home Run Central.
In fact, neither Junior, Big Mac nor Slammin' Sammy seem excited about the great homer race shaping up. That's OK, because there will be plenty of tote boards keeping track.
''I just want to go out, play ball and win games,'' Griffey said.
John Rocker would settle for that, too. More likely, he'll hear it from crowds all over when he sprints in from the bullpen, especially when he makes his first appearance at Shea Stadium on June 29 -- provided he's still pitching for Atlanta.
Suspended for two weeks, the Braves reliever will miss opening day. Then again, most fans in America missed seeing the start, too.
Baseball 2000 began Wednesday night at the Tokyo Dome when Mike Hampton made his New York Mets debut, facing the Chicago Cubs. The first pitch with the new Bud Selig-signed balls came at 7:06 p.m. in Japan -- that was 5:06 a.m. EST.
The Cubs won the opener 5-3, then the Mets beat Chicago 5-1 in 11 innings Thursday for a split in the two-game series, set up to promote international ball.
''I'm certainly glad we won now. It will make the 16 hours on an airplane a little easier,'' Mets first baseman Todd Zeile said. ''I enjoyed it. Win, lose or draw, I think it was something that baseball needed.''
In other places, there's optimism as the opener approaches.
Chalk it up to:
-- Three new ballparks. Enron Field in Houston replaces the Astrodome, Comerica Park in Detroit takes over for Tiger Stadium and Pacific Bell Park in San Francisco replaces old Candlestick Park.
-- Seven new managers. There's Don Baylor (Cubs), Mike Hargrove (Baltimore), Charlie Manuel (Cleveland), Davey Lopes (Milwaukee), Mike Sciosia (Anaheim), Buddy Bell (Colorado) and Phil Garner (Detroit).
-- Bunches of stars in new places. Along with Griffey and Hampton, Juan Gonzalez, Shawn Green, Raul Mondesi, Chuck Finley, John Olerud, Greg Vaughn, Vinny Castilla, Dante Bichette and Darryl Kile moved.
''I didn't anticipate so many changes,'' said Colorado general manager Dan O'Dowd, who completely revamped the Rockies' roster.
Plus, there's the Comeback Club. Kerry Wood, Andres Galarraga, Moises Alou and Kerry Ligtenberg return after missing all of 1999. Jason Kendall also returns after sitting out much of the season with a broken ankle.
Atlanta ace John Smoltz, however, will be out the whole year after tearing an elbow ligament, an injury that happened after the NL champions seemed to be getting over the controversy Rocker created with disparaging remarks about minorities, foreigners and gays.
''This club is used to dealing with adversity,'' MVP Chipper Jones said.
Darryl Strawberry also is gone, suspended for the season because of a cocaine problem. His former Yankees teammates, Wade Boggs and Chili Davis, have retired. And 1999 All-Stars Tony Fernandez and David Nilsson left to join teams in Japan.
Richie Garcia and Frank Pulli are absent, two of the 22 umpires who lost their jobs last season. No telling whether any of them will ever work again, with umps having since formed a new union.
And AL president Gene Budig and NL counterpart Len Coleman are no longer in office. Their posts were wiped out and, as a result, all baseballs will bear the signature of commissioner Selig.
There's still talk of realignment for 2001, with Arizona to the AL, Tampa Bay to the NL and Texas to the AL Central as possibilities. But for now, the focus is on the field.
That means Orioles fans counting down the nine hits Cal Ripken needs for No. 3,000. And Padres fans cheering as Tony Gwynn, with 3,067 hits, moves up from 18th place on the career list.
AL Cy Young winner Pedro Martinez gave Red Sox rooters a taste of what to expect by taking part in a perfect game at spring training.
''I pitched a perfect game!'' Martinez shouted after going three innings in a tuneup against Toronto.
Other things to watch:
-- Nice touches at the new parks. Enron Field features an uphill slope in center field, Pacific Bell Park has a fence so shallow that long drives to right field might land in San Francisco Bay and Comerica Park has the old home plate from Tiger Stadium.
-- Cooperstown will be decked out in red July 23 when Sparky Anderson, Tony Perez and old-timer Bid McPhee are inducted into the Hall of Fame wearing Cincinnati caps. Longtime Reds announcer Marty Brennaman also goes in, along with Carlton Fisk and Negro leagues star Turkey Stearnes.
-- Pete Rose and his bid for reinstatement. Selig seems dead set against it, meaning baseball's career hits leader will not be allowed to take part in championship reunions for his '75 Reds and '80 Phillies.
-- Turner Field, where Rose received a prolonged ovation last October during All-Century ceremonies, will hold the All-Star game on July 11. Might be quite a site to see Rocker running in to pitch that night.
-- Political hardball. Several Rangers want to see former team owner George W. Bush win the presidency. ''I just think it would be cool to know the dude in the White House,'' pitcher Darren Oliver said.
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