The Cincinnati Reds started a new season with a spring in their steps and a great big boing to their base hits.
Opening Day served to showcase the new artificial surface at Cinergy Field, and this rug is as resilient as rubber. It gives an ordinary unjuiced baseball the bounce of a steroid-stimulated kangaroo. It figures to enhance the home team's home-field advantage, once the home team figures out how to cope with it.
''I think the first half of the season, it's going to help us a lot,'' Reds right fielder Reggie Sanders said after Tuesday's 11-4 romp over the Colorado Rockies. ''I think we're going to take a lot of extra bases. In the second half, (other teams) may adjust to it.''
Sanders was not sure he could foresee the full effect of the new carpet Tuesday afternoon, but he figured it was worth two bases on his first at bat of the season. His first-inning liner to left field caromed over the head of Dante Bichette for a triple. Rockies manager Don Baylor suggested the ball would have cleared the head of any outfielder short of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
''I thought there were going to be some interesting moments out there today because the turf's normally a little bouncier during the day,'' Reds first baseman Hal Morris said. ''It seems like it's bouncing 30 percent higher than the old turf.''
Happy for new spring
Cinergy's spongy new carpet replaces a more rigid surface that was installed in 1988. Reds utilityman Lenny Harris laments that there were still some hits left in the old turf, but his joints aren't complaining.
''When that turf gets older, and hard and you play on it for two weeks straight, you start to feel it,'' Reds second baseman Bret Boone said. ''Barry (Larkin) always said it was tough on his knees. I said, 'Yeah, you're just old.' But last year I started feeling it after a couple of weeks. I just wanted to get me on some grass.''
Cinergy's new field should be softer on the shins, but it promises to be hard on earned-run averages.
Outfielders are going to be forced to choose between playing back or watching balls bound over their heads. Line drives are going to gain legs, and bloop hits could become as terrifying as Barry Bonds. Any shot that lands safely is going to lead its author to think in terms of two bases. More shots are likely to land safely as outfielders concede singles to contend with caroms.
And just wait until the weather gets warmer. Heat tends to turn baseball's artificial surfaces into trampolines.
''I really can't tell you how bouncy it is right now because the sun was not out and it's not humid out yet,'' Lenny Harris said Tuesday. ''That's when you'll be able to tell the difference. You can't let the ball bounce in front of you on new turf in the summertime because you don't know what it's going to do. It could cost you a couple of ballgames.''
It might also win you a couple of ballgames, if you go about it properly. Reds manager Ray Knight has always preferred aggressive baserunning to building for a big inning. Now, he has a surface perfectly suited to his strategy, and the speed of Deion Sanders, Larkin and Reggie Sanders to exploit it.
Built for speed
''Speed just wears you out,'' Knight said. ''With Deion, Reggie and Barry, I don't think there's three guys on any ballclub who could outrun those guys in a relay race.''
Reggie Sanders began to realize the possibilities of Cinergy's new turf when Deion Sanders led off Tuesday's game with a ground-rule double. The ball, badly misplayed by Bichette, cleared the left-field wall with a stunning, single bound.
Deion's double emboldened Reggie when the ball left his bat later in the first inning. ''I thought it had a chance to bounce over his head,'' Reggie Sanders said. ''So I was turning it on.''
Later, Morris' sixth-inning single past second base may have been the result of the speedier surface. In the Colorado ninth, Walt Weiss' infield chop single nearly caromed over Boone's head.
''Defensively,'' Boone said, ''we're just going to have to see how it goes and get some experience. We're kind of in the stage of seeing what it's going to be like.''
What is it like so far?
''Bouncy,'' Boone said.
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