Season Predictions: Five Things to Watch for

• It's the Year of Barry.
Looming large in the rearview mirrors of both Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron, San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds will be the story of the 2006 Major League Baseball season. With 708 homers to his credit, he needs just seven more to pass Ruth for second place on the career home run list, and 48 to eclipse Aaron as the all-time champ. (We'd calculate how much ink and TV airtime will be devoted to Bonds's pursuit, but we never got past basic algebra in high school.)

You'd think that would be enough for one player - but you'd be wrong. If he stays healthy and plays a full season, Bonds could finish 2006 in the all-time top 10 for games played, runs scored, and runs batted in. He already owns the career mark for walks, and he could get close enough to 3,000 career hits to entice him to delay retirement and return for the 2007 season.

Also look for:
• The inaugural World Baseball Classic. The World Series isn't all that worldly, so baseball's titans came up with the WBC to showcase the best teams from around the globe.

• The steroid police. Twelve players tested positive for steroid use last season, and the policy has been strengthened since then. Will anybody get busted this year? Will offensive production fall? We're guessing yes on both counts.

• The St. Louis Cardinals leave Busch Stadium for … Busch Stadium. After nearly 40 years, the old version ran into a wrecking ball and made way for a new, $387 million gem across the street. Same name, new address.

• Futility, thy name is Cubs. The Boston Red Sox exorcised 86 years of "The Curse" by winning the World Series two seasons ago. The Chicago White Sox ended 88 years of misery (and took some of the sting out of the "Black Sox" scandal of 1919) by taking the title last season. The Cubs are the last of the longtime lovable losers, and excuses are wearing thinner than ever after a Series drought that extends back to 1908. - Chris Wessling




Sounds Like Team Spirit

Texas Rangers shortstop Michael Young, last year's American League batting champion, took a few minutes out of his busy schedule to chat with us about - what else? - baseball. - C.T.

Last season was your best yet - a .331 average, 221 hits, and the batting title. How do you top that?
My only goal is to get the most out of my ability, and I'm not at that point yet. There are still some areas of my game I can improve on.

What do you do in the off-season?
I take three or four weeks off to detox from a long, grueling season. After New Year's, it's back to the weight room and my cardio work. Then I start throwing and hitting and [doing] some agility stuff. Like every player, I want to show up at spring training bigger, stronger, and faster than the year before.

Some players depend on rituals and mantras to help them focus. Do you?
I'm not a superstitious guy. I just show up and play hard.

How do you handle slumps?
I make a considered effort to not change a thing in a slump. A lot of guys start changing everything, searching for answers, and then they're really in trouble. I believe in my approach to hitting, so win, lose, or draw, that's my plan of attack.