I have the distinct privilege of going to see the White Sox play the New York Yankees this afternoon, better known as "the evil empire." It is always fun to see a Yankees game. The crowd will be big and loud both. There were be lots of Yankee fans present and they will not be a bit bashful. The setting will be electric and fun. I need a day at "the old ball park" after a busy few weeks. This morning I reflected on the great game at the first quarter mark of this season.

First, I am delighted that my Atlanta Braves are at or near first place in the NL East since Day One. They look pretty good, though pitching will carry them as far as they go. Their lineup is adequate but not a killer offense in any sense. Their defense is also adequate, though not the very best. Pitching, pitching and still more pitching will make their season. The Mets will be terribly hard to dethrone in the East, having more talent for sure, at least on paper. But, as the saying goes, "No team wins on paper." For me it looks like this will be another good Braves team.

By the way, this is the year in which I celebrate my coming to love baseball and the Braves since it was fifty years ago that the Milwaukee Braves beat the Yankees to win the World Series. I was eight years old and hooked on the game for the rest of my life. (For those who have wondered this is why I am a lifelong Braves fan since I do not easily shift my loyalties from anyone or any team that I have loved for long. The same goes for my beloved Crimson Tide, where I also attended college before my transfer to Wheaton College in 1969.) What this says about me I leave to you to decide but friends say it means I am loyal at best and nuts at worst.

Second, the Milwaukee Brewers are clearly the surprise team right now. I am not shocked by their success as they have been building this franchise the right way for several years now and their manager New Yost is a Bobby Cox disciple. In short, the Brewers have copied the building of a poor franchise into a winner by taking a page from the Braves’ manual and the winning tandem of Bobby Cox and John Schuerholtz. Will the Brew Crew last? Who knows but they could make the NL Central a lot of fun.

Third, the NL West is open to everyone except, perhaps, Colorado. I think the Dodgers have the right mix and again their manager is a Braves man, Grady Liddle.

In the AL Boston seems to be the team to beat and the Yankees will improve but I think their pitching is still not enough to win it all. They have spent tons of money but not wisely, proving that the team that has the most does not always win at all. If  George Steinbrinner fires Joe Torre during this season he is even more ridiculous than I could have imagined. In the AL Central I think the Indians and Tigers are the best but don’t count the White Sox out quite yet. Anyway, they have me there to offer my "jinx" touch now and then. Maybe my luck changes in ’07. The AL West was once called the AL Worst. It has a good team in the Angels but it still seems to be the weakest division in the AL. We shall see.

The big surprise? Maybe the collapse of the defending World Champion St. Louis  Cardinals. They were far and away not the best team in baseball last year, proving again that the playoff system is not a true test of the "best baseball team" but of who got hot when and how. The Cards could recover but I have my serious doubts. The Tigers are proving that they are for real and I expect with Jim Leyland they will play well all season.

If you are a fan enjoy this season. There are enough surprises here and there to make this season fresh and exciting. Now, if the Pittsburgh Pirates ownership would spend some money they could be competitive again too. I despise these ownerships that take money and then give nothing back to their fans. Their greed hurts the game as much or more as any high salary paid to any baseball player. Revenue sharing was about improving the weaker teams, not making bigger profits for a few owners who do not have a commitment to the team in their city.