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Many people are writing off the 2004 season due to the accusations of steroids and the finances (limitless as they may be) of George Steinbrenner. But this season is going to be a great one and here are 9 reasons why - In no particular order:

The AL East Rivalry: The New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox are going to be going at each other once again. This season Theo Epstein and George Steinbrenner will be fighting for the top spot in the East even more so and this might be a bigger battle than in seasons past. Following last year’s ALCS in which everyone fought everyone, the regular season games will mean much and, should they meet, the postseason will mean even more. Fox Broadcasting bought the rights for the April 16th game between these two bitter rivals. Oh yeah, the Baltimore Orioles, Toronto Blue Jays, and (to a lesser extent) Tampa Bay Devil Rays can play serious spoilers for one of these teams.

The AL Central Free for All: All three teams have the three types of teams that win games. The Twins are built on pitching and defense, while the White Sox can bash opponents into submission, and the Kansas City Royals have perhaps the most balanced team in the division. It will be interesting to watch these three teams battle it out for the AL Central title and the trip into the postseason. The Tigers will be great to improve and the Indians will begin to look like the favorites for the 2006 World Series even more.

The AL West Showdown: The Seattle Mariners won 116 games a few seasons ago, while the Oakland A’s have won the past few division championships. But don’t forget the powerful Anaheim Angels, with their additions of Bartolo Colon and Vladimir Guerrero. This season has the best three teams at the top and most likely whoever has the best record against the Rangers will win the division.

Milestones Galore: Barry Bonds has moved into 3rd place in all time home runs – and if he keeps this pace he may match Ruth’s 714 this season. Sammy Sosa can hit his 600th homer, while Ken Griffey Jr. and Fred McGriff can both reach home runs number 500. Larry Walker, Omar Vizquel, Luis Gonzalez, Bernie Williams, and Kenny Lofton can reach hit number 2000. Sammy Sosa, Jeff Bagwell, Frank Thomas, and Juan Gonzalez can reach RBI number 1500. On the pitching side, Greg Maddux can win game number 300, Hoffman could save number 400, and all three of Brown, Mussina, and Moyer could win number 200. Three hundred saves is possible for Troy Percival and Mariano Rivera, while David Wells, Kevin Appier, and Hideo Nomo could obtain strikeout number 2000…the list goes on - I’m sure there are many, many more milestones to be had.

Rocket’s Farewell Tour: We have heard about the Rocket leaving baseball once before, but this year is more likely to be the year. It has been a wonderful time to watch the Rocket play, but this is probably the last we’ll see of him until the 2008 Summer Olympics.

Unseating the Braves in NL East: This is the best chance for any team to unseat the Braves in the NL East (with the exception of 1994, when the Expos technically won the division). The Philadelphia Phillies have a very balanced team on both pitching and offense, the Marlins are the World Series champions, and the Expos and Mets are both very pesky.

The Triumvirate in the NL Central: The Houston Astros brought in Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte, the Cardinals have the best offense in the division, and the Cubs have Mark Prior. All three teams are very evenly matched and should be fun to watch. This will be a very close race in the only division with six teams. The Cincinnati Reds can contend for a while, and the Pirates and Brewers can be spoilers.

The Melee in the NL West: There are many teams being picked to win this division. The San Francisco Giants, winners last season, have the consensus pick, but the Los Angeles Dodgers have Paul DePodesta to clean things up, along with a still all right pitching staff. There are the San Diego Padres, who could very well be a Cinderella team. They brought in Ramon Hernandez and Brian Giles, two serious and needed upgrades. The Arizona Diamondbacks have Randy “The Big Unit” Johnson for a full season and he looks like he is ready to pitch. They also have Brandon Webb who has some big shoes to fill but he might be capable of doing just that. And the Rockies can be serious spoilers with Larry Walker, Todd Helton, Preston Wilson, and Jeremy Burnitz.

Red Sox/Cubs Curses End: Sports Illustrated picked the Cubs to win the World Series and featured Kerry Wood on their front cover. This is a large jinx on their team - just ask the Red Sox from years ago. But both teams stand a chance to break their respective curses. The Curse of the Bambino can be broken if the Red Sox can make the postseason and ride the arms of Curt Schilling, Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe, and Keith Foulke to the promised land. But the Cubs can break the Curse of the Billy Goat with Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, Greg Maddux, and a strong relief corps to win it all. This season is the best chance for both of these teams to win a Championship, and it might come at the expense of the other.

Of course there are many other reasons to watch baseball. It’s the National Pastime, there won’t be a lockout or a CBA to be agreed upon, and 17 or 18 teams in the Majors have a serious chance at making it to the postseason.

Happy 2004 season!