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Postcards from Spring Training

Viera, Fla. (Washington Nationals) Shortstop Cristian Guzman, an ex-Twin, has never played home games on anything except turf, but he has looked spectacular on the grass and dirt in Florida. With Edgar Renteria now in Boston, no National League shortstop goes into the hole better.... A few Montreal touches remain around Space Coast Stadium, including Expos minibats, autographed baseballs and seat cushions at the souvenir stands. For $3 you can put your butt on the old Expos logo, which is pretty much what Major League Baseball did the last three years before relocating the team.  --Michael Farber

Kissimmee, Fla. (Atlanta Braves) Pitcher John Smoltz was trumpeting his record of prognosticating NCAA basketball tournaments, claiming the only time he picked his favorite team, Michigan State, was in 2000, when the Spartans won the title.... Chipper Jones, who moved back to third base last June from a not-always-happy stay in leftfield, says he is pleased with his hitting during the first part of camp. "I'm healthy, I'm back home [at third], and I'm swinging the bat good," says Jones (above). "I'm looking forward to a monster year." --M.F.

Fort Lauderdale (Baltimore Orioles) Between Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro, the Orioles can put on a show in batting practice. So can Larry Bigbie. The leftfielder more than held his own with the 500-home-run-club members before a game last week against the Mets, depositing about a half-dozen balls into the rightfield bleachers. Bigbie also showed off his swing in the game, when he took Steve Trachsel deep in the fourth inning to kick-start a six-run inning in an 8--2 victory. The 27-year-old Bigbie hit 15 home runs in his first full season in the majors last year and should get more pitches to hit now that he's batting second--in front of Melvin Mora, Miguel Tejada and Sosa. "Pitchers are going to go after me," Bigbie says, "so hopefully I can ambush them."  --Jacob Luft

Fort Myers, Fla. (Boston Red Sox) Shortstop Edgar Renteria bonded quickly with Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz; it seems the three are rarely apart. A sort of fourth musketeer in this equation is top Sox prospect Hanley Ramirez. The 21-year-old infielder from the Dominican Republic has been Renteria's shadow this spring. "[Hanley] is really an impressionable kid," manager Terry Francona says. "Edgar has spent a lot of time with this kid, and that's a good guy to emulate." --J.L.

Clearwater, Fla. (Philadelphia Phillies) You think manager Charlie Manuel likes 26-year-old second baseman Chase Utley? In the course of one conversation he compared Utley's stance with former Cubs great Billy Williams's and his hands with Wade Boggs's. ("Utley's are quicker.") No mention of George Brett, Rod Carew or Ted Williams, but Stan Musial's name was dropped into the discussion. Yikes. --M.F.

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The Poll Position

Which would-be Cinderella is most likely to go on a run in the NCAA tournament?


•New Mexico

•Old Dominion

•Utah State