The immediate response of players to the probability that baseball will schedule a long-awaited World Cup tournament for next March has been less than overwhelming.
The players, and many of the 30 major league teams, are concerned about injuries on the eve of the regular season and the economic impact.
Reached in New York, Rob Manfred, baseball's executive vice president for labor relations, said the hesitant response was to be expected considering that "there has not been sufficient information out there as to the structure of the event, the timing of the event, the support that the clubs are going to provide and the economic protections that will be available to the players.
"When we provide information on those topics," Manfred added, "I think you'll have players more than willing to participate."
Baseball intends to provide contract insurance, but will that be enough to placate, say, the New York Yankees, who can't replace Jorge Posada or Mariano Rivera with a slip of paper and who, in the past, have frowned on players' participating in international events?
Insurance can't substitute for an injured player, and that may remain a significant impediment, no matter how much pressure Major League Baseball puts on the clubs to let their players participate and how much nationalistic pressure is put on players -- some of whom may also be reluctant to go through the stricter testing for banned substances.
This much is known about the structure and timing of the event:
According to MLB officials, it probably will have 16 teams, including Cuba and China. They would be divided into four pools and play a round-robin schedule, with the top two teams in each pool going to a single-elimination tournament. The two-week event would begin about March 10 to March 15, with the early games played in Arizona and Florida, although television will ultimately have much to say about the place and time of the tournament.
MLB is justifiably excited about a nation-vs.-nation launching pad to the season, but it will be only as good as the number of participating stars.
Scanning the baseball landscape while circling the May Pole, the Seattle Mariners probably rank as the biggest April fools among teams considered to be division contenders.
The Kansas City Royals, Arizona Diamondbacks and Toronto Blue Jays, all expected to compete in their divisions, also ended April in the cellar. However, the Mariners, tabbed to battle the Angels and Oakland Athletics in the American League West, produced the most surprising struggle as they twice lost seven of eight games in going 8-15 during the month.
Seattle's problems have been global -- from the struggles of Ichiro Suzuki at the top of the lineup and Shigetoshi Hasegawa in the bullpen to widespread inconsistency in the rotation and middle of the lineup.
"Right now," General Manager Bill Bavasi said this week, "we're in the horrors."
Manager Bob Melvin seems safe, although Bavasi has refused to get trapped in any vote-of-confidence-type comments. April showers cost Maury Wills and Chuck Cottier their managerial jobs when Seattle experienced the two opening months that most closely resembled this one.
There was a different ownership and front office then, but the Mariners can't risk alienating the sellout crowds at Safeco Field.
"We can't say that we'd like to get back on track," shortstop Rich Aurilia said. "We haven't been on track yet this year."
The San Diego Padres feel they accomplished what they needed to in a 10-9 opening stretch against the National League West and a 15-9 opening month.
The Padres were the one team that rebuilt in a division in which the opposition largely retrenched. General Manager Kevin Towers went in with a goal of 89 wins, predicting no more than 85 for the West's other four teams.
"We haven't fared well in head-to-head competition within the division since 1998 [a record of 141-190]," Towers said by phone, "and now with the unbalanced schedule I think it was important for a club with high expectations to get off to a good start -- not only to build confidence but to reestablish credibility against your competition in the division. I think we've accomplished that."