Boys of Summer spring forward

As the Byrds sang and the Bible preaches, to everything there is a season; in the wide world of sports, football's over and baseball season is almost here again.

Spring training is right around the corner and the Boys of Summer soon will dominate sports headlines.

Like the planet's seasonal changes, folks feel the transformation as it's taking place.

"It's in the air," Las Vegas Hilton oddsmaker and SuperBook supervisor Jeff Sherman observed.

"You'll know baseball's really here when you can read about it on ESPN.com everyday and watch 'Baseball Tonight.'"

Bookmakers generally advise this is a good time to buy baseball futures, before March Madness crowds pound down the numbers.

"People aren't quite into baseball yet, but they will be in a few weeks," New Frontier book boss Tony Nevill said.

"That's when you get a high concentration of people.

"They'll be here to bet basketball, but they'll be looking ahead to baseball.

"All the teams will have had a few outings by then and pitchers will have some innings under their belts."

World Series futures prices vary from store to store, depending on several things.

That makes shopping and cost comparisons imperative.

One factor in setting prices is opinions of baseball specialists at individual houses.

They either fashion their own numbers or work off a "master" list provided by Las Vegas Sports Consultants, adjusting figures as they see fit.

Nevill notes money moves lines and the area from where a hotel guest hails often influences futures fluctuations as fans bet their hard-earned dollars on hometown teams.

"We get a lot of hotel guests from the Midwest and they bet on Midwestern teams," Nevill said.

Sure as the sun rises in the East and sets in the West, one such team is the
Chicago Cubs.

The Windy City Northsiders are annual liabilties just about everywhere as members of the Cubbie Nation emerge from the country's four corners to dream, bet and hope anew.

Some trace this widespread popularity to SuperStation WGN making Cubs' games the first to be aired nationwide when television still was in its youth; those fans of yesteryear are senior citizens now, but bonds to the club are as binding as ever.

What makes this season different from most is there actually is reason to believe, as Ernie Banks might say, that the Cubs will find heaven in 2007.

"I think (.325 lifetime hitter)
Alfonso Soriano will be the sparkplug the club needs," declared LVSC chief Ken White.

"If they can have
Kerry Wood in the bullpen, ready to go a couple innings every other day, that would be a huge help," Nevill added.

Best buy those Cubs futures quickly, though, because prices are falling faster than those on Wal-mart Holiday Barbies the day after Christmas.

Even Nevill was stunned when his computer revealed the naked truth.

"We opened the Cubs at 60/1 and they're now 6/1," Nevill said.

"Yeah, you heard right."

White considered that "much too low," saying he still could find Cubs futures in the 30/1 to 35/1 range throughout the valley.

Some bet shops hung the long-suffering Chicagoans as high as 75/1.

Bruins futures have been slashed in half at the Hilton.

"We opened them at 30/1 and they're now 15/1," Sherman said.

"That's typical."

Philadelphia, which narrowly missed out on the '06 postseason, also is attracting New Frontier futures attention.

The Phillies boast slugger
Ryan Howard and should bolster their mounds corps with the acquisition of ex-White Sox hurler Freddie Garcia.

"I know the computer says the money's coming in on the Cubs, but it seems like every other futures bet we're getting is on Philadelphia," Nevill said.

"We've only lowered odds on the Phillies from 18/1 to 15/1, though.

"That should tell you I'm not sold on them.

"They still have to prove themselves to me."

The New Frontier is in good position with all American League teams, though Nevill's keeping an eye out for any big or concentrated action on Cleveland.

"We opened the Indians at 35/1, went to 40/1 and then back to 35," Nevill said.

"I like them a little and don't want to be caught off-guard."

Nevill pointed out Califnornia clubs more or less are regarded as local teams and are heavily backed.

"The Dodgers, Angels, Padres ... even the G-Men and A's from up north," Nevill said.

"The way things are set up, it doesn't take a whole lot any more to win a division.

"The California teams haven't drawn much play yet, but that's probably because their odds weren't very high to start."

White and Sherman noticed San Francisco futures plunged when the Giants acquired pitcher Barry Zito from the A's.

San Francisco opened between 60/1 and 75/1 and currently is in the 25/1 to 35/1 neighborhood, though numbers could rise again if slugger Barry Bonds is indicted.

As usual, the New York Yankees are book favorites in everything, including the ALDS, ACCS and the World Series.

Mike Colbert, the Plaza's race and sports book manager, agrees the Bronx Bombers should be smashing this season and even stronger if Roger Clemens snags a deal that returns him to the Big Apple.

"They definitely (will) become the team to beat," Colbert said.

Colbert noted the Plaza had taken more than a fair share of futures wagers on Milwaukee and Colorado at 50/1.

He also echoed Nevill in urging diamond futures players to hustle to betting windows.

"After March Madness is done, baseball heats up," Colbert said.

"Fans
looking for baseball bargains should definitely do it now."

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