A non-traditional case for (gulp) Interleague Play
Note to self: You can take off your pajamas now and leave the house. This is the 18th year of Interleague Play in Major League Baseball, and nobody has fallen off the face of the earth.
As for everybody else: Stand still for a moment and listen closely. That sound you hear is silence from those of us among the game's traditionalists when it comes to the daily regular-season pairings of American League and National League teams. This is something that would have caused us to scream decades ago while sticking pins in voodoo dolls of all the owners who approved what we once viewed as lunacy.
There is nothing strange, wacky or even dangerous for the overall well-being of society regarding Interleague Play. Well, not for those of us who used to believe such things. In fact, I'll mention this without clenching my teeth: Interleague Play actually is enjoyable. One Mississippi, two Mississippi ...
Nope, the sun hasn't exploded. Neither has Major League Baseball -- unless you're talking about its attendance during the past 18 years. That was around the start of Interleague Play. Coincidence? Likely not. For much of baseball's record-setting stretch at ticket offices, Interleague games consistently have outdrawn their counterparts in most Major League cities. And, yes, I know -- the Yankees or Red Sox against any team in the NL will cause more turnstiles to click than, say, the Rays or the Mariners. But that also is true with the Yankees and Red Sox against any team in the AL.
It's about matchups. Period. So if nothing else, you have to embrace Interleague Play for providing more opportunities during the regular season for fans to see quality games, regardless of league affiliation.
Just look at Wednesday's schedule. There is an Intraleague game between the Nationals and the Diamondbacks. Let's just say this doesn't exactly have appeal outside of diehard fans of both teams. While the Nats are challenging for the top of the NL East despite a slew of injuries, the D-backs continue to struggle in the basement of the NL West with baseball's third-worst record.
In contrast, all three of Wednesday's Interleague games have a "wow" factor.
In the Angels-Phillies matchup, both teams are loaded with veteran stars and the hometown Philadelphia fans will get a chance to see the always interesting Mike Trout up close and personal.
Then there's the Rockies-Royals tilt. You don't think folks in Kansas City (or anywhere else) will rush in droves to see a Colorado team that leads the universe in nearly every team-hitting category? The Royals are in a rare battle this time of year to remain the best team in the AL Central not named the Tigers.
And of course, Yankees-Mets. Do I really have to say anything? This time, the games will be in Flushing after two at Yankee Stadium on Monday and Tuesday, and the so-called Subway Series has been huge for Interleague Play from the start. The same goes for those other Interleague matchups that yearly pit natural rivals from opposite leagues against each other: The Windy City Series (Cubs-White Sox), the Battle of the Beltways (Nationals-Orioles), the Ohio Cup (Reds-Indians), the Bay Bridge Series (Giants-Athletics), the Freeway Series (Dodgers-Angels), the I-70 Series (Cardinals-Royals). Those are the big ones. In addition, the little ones happen frequently enough to combine with the big ones to make Interleague Play appealing -- even to traditionalists.
Take, for instance, those Interleague games last month between the Angels and Nationals. The D.C. area buzzed more for that than for the pending opening of the refurbished Washington Monument. That's because Nationals Park played host to two of baseball's most gifted young players for the first time in real competition -- Trout against the Nats' Bryce Harper, both with captivating styles on offense, defense and the basepaths.
Let's go back to the late 1960s and early '70s, when I lived in Cincinnati and worshipped the Big Red Machine. The only time I saw AL icons such as Harmon Killebrew and Al Kaline during the regular season was on the NBC Saturday Game of the Week, and later on ABC's Monday Night Baseball. The only other time I saw such guys from that other league was during the All-Star Game or the postseason -- you know, if their teams were lucky enough to make it that far. It was more magical that way ... or so I thought.
Now that I think about it, I would have tingled more back then with Killebrew and Kaline playing across from me at Cincinnati's Crosley Field and later Riverfront Stadium, instead of my television screen.
Then there was the fear of traditionalists that Interleague Play would ruin the mystique of the All-Star Game and the World Series. Instead, baseball's Midsummer Classic has remained the gem of all All-Star Games throughout professional and amateur sports, even with Interleague Play. As for the World Series, it hasn't lost any of its appeal, even when both teams happened to play each other during the regular season.
Interleague Play has been seamless. That is, if you ignore AL loyalists griping about the loss of the designated hitter in NL ballparks.
Baseball should get rid of the DH anyway. I'm back to being the traditionalist.