The crowd held its collective breath on a rainy November evening in the Phoenix desert last season. It was the bottom of the ninth, final game of the World Series, and the hometown Diamondbacks were tied 2-2 with the New York Yankees. With the championship on the line, left hander Luis Gonzalez tapped the plate three times (one for each one of his triplets) and dug in for a swing that would end the Series. Facing Yankee closer Mariano Rivera, Gonzalez came through with a single to left center that brought home teammate Jay Bell and the coveted victory.
In the years since the memorable strike of '94, Major League Baseball's heavy hitters like Gonzalez have been as responsible as any PR campaign for bringing the fans not only back to the ballparks, but back in droves. Names like Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, and Barry Bonds have taken their place alongside apple pie and hot dogs. While we don't take anything away from the great perform-ances on the mound last year, let's not forget that it's this other side of the ball that puts points on the scoreboard. Sharpen your autograph pencils: Here's an overview of the players to watch take the plate as we head into the 2002 season of Major League Baseball.
Two words: Barry Bonds. There's not much we can say that hasn't already been said about the San Francisco Giants' home run hero of 2001. You know him, you don't have to love him, but you do have to respect him when No. 25 comes to the plate and his mug appears on the JumboTron. After 16 years in the Majors, Bonds sports an overall batting average that hovers around the .300 mark, and his record 73 homers convinces even the skeptics that he's one of the greatest ever to play the game; hence his nabbing last year's National League MVP award (his fourth) and being named the Associated Press male athlete of the year.