One hundred and twenty-five days after they put away the bats and balls, baseball returned Friday under the hot sun of Florida and Arizona.Fifteen teams began workouts on the first possible day, just 45 days before the season starts. There were the usual first-day pains and aches. Cleveland first baseman Keith Hernandez is out two weeks with a bad back, St. Louis pitcher Joe Magrane is out at least a few days with tightness in his left elbow.
No matter, the crack of the bat and the pop of the glove made summer seem that much closer.
"It's a new year and everybody's going to want to beat us," said Lou Piniella, manager of the World Series champion Cincinnati Reds.
It was last Oct. 20 when Cincinnati completed its improbable sweep of the Oakland Athletics. Since that cool night in California, baseball talk was confined to dollars and deals, that off-the-field stuff.
There was a little of that Friday, with Dwight Gooden announcing that he had broken off contract talks with the New York Mets and would file for free agency after the season. Gooden wanted $16.2 million for three years - which would make him the highest-paid player in the game - while the Mets offered $13 million for three years.
"I just want the money I'm worth," Gooden said. "I tried to get a deal worked out. So now I'm just going to go out and play."
"Nobody wanted to sign Doc more than us," Mets executive vice president Al Harazin said at Port St. Lucie. "I don't feel good about it right now. The door's open. I hope Dwight pitches for the Mets for many years to come."
But for the most part, it was back to who's looking good and who's looking bad. And for a while, who's missing.
Pascual Perez - of course - wasn't in Yankees' camp because of his annual visa problems. And Ramon Martinez and Jay Howell weren't in Dodgertown.
Howell, who led the club in saves with 16, wants an extension of his contract, which expires at the end of this season. Martinez also is supposedly upset with contract talks. No one has to show up until March 1, the mandatory reporting date.
"With Ramon, this is not a surprise, based on what his agent told us," Dodgers general manager Fred Claire said. "We have made him a very attractive offer, which would make him the highest-paid pitcher of one-plus years in the history of baseball. I'm disappointed because Ramon should be here."
Orel Hershiser, recovering from reconstructive shoulder surgery last April, threw on the sidelines at Vero Beach and concentrated on throwing his curveball. The Dodgers right-hander said he "felt great" and may pitch batting practice as soon as Sunday.
Hall of Famer Jim Palmer wasn't in Orioles camp at Sarasota on Friday to begin his comeback attempt. The 45-year-old right-hander is scheduled to participate Saturday in his first organized workout since the Orioles released him on May 23, 1984.
Steve Howe, meanwhile, was assigned uniform No. 88 when he reported Friday to the New York Yankees' camp in Fort Lauderdale as a non-roster invitee.
"Right now we all have a 0.00 ERA," said Howe, suspended six times for drug and alcohol abuse. "We're all doing good."
Howe believes he can replace Dave Righetti as the Yankees' closer.
"There's nothing wrong with that. If you can back it up, that's fine," New York manager Stump Merrill said. "I'd sure rather have him say that than `I hope I can get somebody out.' He's been there before. We'll give him an opportunity and the more success he has the more opportunities he'll get."
At Fort Meyers, Minnesota manager Tom Kelly looked at 20 pitchers during Friday's workout.
"We've got 15 people going for 10 or 11 spots this year, where in other years we had four or six people," Kelly said. "It's going to be awfully tough to pick the spots, but it's different to be weeding down instead of trying to find people."
Floyd Youmans, who missed last season following rotator cuff surgery, was among the 22 pitchers who practiced Friday with the White Sox.
"I just remember him from a few years back, when he had one of the best arms in the game," Chicago GM Ron Schueler said of the 26-year-old right-hander. "The arm might be back. I think he realizes this might be his last opportunity, and he'll try to make the most of it."
Danny Cox, who has not pitched since August 1988, was at the Philadelphia Phillies' camp in Clearwater.
Pitcher Andy Ashby was Philadelphia's first injury. A car door was slammed on his pitching hand Wednesday night and X-rays Friday disclosed a fracture at the base of the fifth metacarpal bone. The hand was placed in a splint and he will be unable to throw for 10 days.