Colgate Around the Hill – Spring may have passed Hamilton by, but in the rest of the country baseball is in full swing. Who will be the surprise team in Major League Baseball this year?

Edan Lisovicz: Now that baseball’s steroid era has most likely come to a close with the discrediting of Alex Rodriguez-the game’s biggest star-America’s greatest pastime is poised for a comeback. Before the steroid issue took center stage, the biggest criticism of major league baseball was its lack of parity due to large discrepancies in team salaries-a criticism that has remained on the minds of fans of small market teams. But the success of the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays has helped to cultivate an era of hope for fans of all teams in all markets, and now everybody is looking for this year’s Rays. While there is no reason to think the Rays will slow down, other signs seem to indicate that the pennant races this fall will feature of a few surprising teams. The Oakland Athletics, most famous for running a tight payroll according to owner Billy Bean’s philosophy of “moneyball,” have made major off-season moves, acquiring baseball’s best young hitter in Matt Holliday and garnering the return of Oakland legend Jason Giambi. Adding that kind of power and leadership to a lineup that already included top-tier third basemen Eric Chavez, SS Orlando Cabrera and utility player Nomar Garciaparra, should result in a potent offense for the A’s in 2009. In the end the A’s season will ultimately come down to pitching, and although Oakland’s starting rotation is among the least experienced in the majors, look for them to make a major move to secure an arm or two if their offense can keep them in contention until the trade deadline.

Gillian Scherz: My volleyball coach occasionally used to say something along the lines of “bad warm-up, good game.” Well, let’s hope that’s true for this year’s favorites, after three of my choices choked their opening days — hard. On the mound, highest paid pitcher CC Sabathia had an “off day” to start his career with the Yankees, and the Indians’ rising star Cliff Lee opened their season with a 9-1 loss to the Rangers. And after Manny’s contract chaos, he sure tanked his opening day with the Dodgers. Lots of money, lots of talent and lots of first-day failure. But, it can only get better from here! I have faith in my Indians — and former Indians — that they’ll overcome this to join the ranks of another favorite who didn’t have such a poor opening day: Ken Griffey Jr. Griffey’s home run for the Mariners put him tied for first place in Opening Day homers history. My final favorite is fast man Emilio Bonifacio, the first to hit an Opening Day in-the-park home run in 41 years. And it doesn’t stop there: the rookie has four steals already, but what’s most amazing is that his batting average last year was a solid .248. I think we can expect a great and, most importantly, interesting season with all the possible favorites and surprises this year.

Harry Raymond: While the snow continues to fall here in Hamilton, the true mark of spring has already arrived: the start of the Major League Baseball season.

The three best teams in baseball all come from the AL East: the Yankees, Red Sox and the Rays. Each team should win 90 games, but the question remains which team will win the 98 games needed to win the division? The Yanks are the only team of the three that made significant additions this offseason (Sorry Red Sox fans, Brad “not worth a” Penny does not count as a meaningful addition). Despite devastating injuries to Jorge Posada and Hideki Matsui, the Yanks still managed to win 89 games in 2008 in the toughest division in baseball. They were a very good team last year. In 2009, with a year of development for Joba Chamberlain and Brett Gardner (prediction: Gardner will be top 3 in the majors in steals), with Posada and Matsui healthy, and with $423.5 million invested in pitching and defense, the Yanks go from a good team last year to World Series favorites this year.

My surprise team for 2009 is the Cincinnati Reds. Yes, I realize the Reds are a horrid 120 games below .500 over the last eight seasons, but with the arrival of the 2009 spring brings hope in Cincinnati. The Reds are relying on talented youngsters Jay Bruce, 22, and Joey Votto, 25, to lead their offense. This may not be that tall an order as the young tandem combined to hit 45 home runs in limited playing time last year. Also, for the first time in a long time, the Reds have pitching to compete. If veterans Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo repeat their performances from 2007 and not 2008, they can stabilize a young and deep rotation that includes my 2009 Cy Young award winner in 25-year old Edison Volquez (a 2008 All-Star with 206 strikeouts and a 3.21 ERA). So, can the Reds win 84-87 games in a weak NL central? With the recent infusion of talented young players, the answer is yes. If the youngsters meet their potential now, the Reds could win even more games in October.

Mike McMaster: Peter Gammons has said that the AL Central is the deepest division in baseball. Which would be true, if the Yankees private jet collided with the Red Sox private jet, and the Rays decided to stop playing baseball in honor of the tragedy. Nonetheless, the AL Central will certainly be a tossup this year.

Admittedly Detroit’s sports are in shambles. Michigan State was the only team to win at Ford Field this year, thanks to the winless Lions, and even they forgot to pencil in the National Championship to their calendars, losing to North Carolina 89-72 on Monday.

It’s time for something to give in Detroit, and it’s going to be the Tigers. Magglio Ordonez, Miguel Cabrera and Curtis Granderson are all looking for bounce-back years, and the young pitching rotation could yet surprise people.

Look for Justin Verlander to be the ace we all thought he was, and keep an eye out for Rick Porcello, the Seton Hall Prep phenom who blew through the minors and into the number four spot in the Tigers rotation.