|Interleague is baseball's way of giving back to the fans|
|Written by Admin|
|Saturday, 19 May 2007 09:24|
All afternoon the cheers and jeers flew: Cubs fans razzing White Sox players, South Siders giving it to the boys in blue with equal gusto. They couldn't even make nice during ``Take Me Out to the Ball Game,'' shouting each other down when it came time to root, root, root for the home team.
``It's great,'' said Ron Sipek, one of the few people in Chicago rooting for both teams, ``for the towns and the teams.''
Hear that Chipper Jones, Jeff Kent and everybody else crabbing about interleague games? For once, it's not about you.
So if a few players and managers don't like interleague games, tough.
``I'm all about whatever's good for the game,'' White Sox first baseman Darin Erstad said. ``There are some great matchups and it's good for the fans. And that's why we're here.''
Apparently some have forgotten that.
Earlier this week, Jones complained that the interleague schedule was ``unfair'' to teams like his Atlanta Braves. As a team with a ``natural rival'' - Boston, the original home of the Braves - Atlanta plays a home-and-home series with the Red Sox. Atlanta also has to play the Tigers and Indians, the top two teams in the American League Central. Division rival Florida, meanwhile, gets Tampa Bay (twice), Kansas City and Minnesota, along with the Indians and White Sox.
Jones has a point. Some teams do get tougher interleague schedules and, in a tight division, losing a few of those games could mean the difference between playing in October and sitting on the couch.
But there's no way to avoid that when a schedule is made up in the middle of winter.
``We don't know who's going to be having the better year and who's not,'' said Katy Feeney, baseball's senior vice president of scheduling. ``We don't know who's going to be hot at the time and who's not.''
Besides, it's no different from the regular season.
The NL West is arguably the toughest division right now, with three of its five teams above .500 and another right on the cusp. The NL Central, meanwhile, has only one team with a winning record. Is it any more fair that the West teams have to beat up on each other on a regular basis while the Brewers load up on the Reds and Cardinals?
``It's going to be like that,'' White Sox outfielder Jermaine Dye said. ``Whoever you play, just go out and play the game.''
After Friday night's Freeway Series opener with the Angels, Kent grumbled that interleague play was something baseball had imposed on players and fans alike.
``It's too bad that we're chasing the dollar instead of the integrity of the game,'' the Dodgers second baseman said.
Like the players haven't been doing that for years.
Sure, interleague play offends the baseball purist. So does the designated hitter, night games and gimmicky promotions like Disco Night, and they're not going anywhere anytime soon.
The bottom line is that fans like interleague play. In its first 10 seasons, it's drawn 13.2 percent more fans than intraleague games. Last year, interleague attendance was up 15.5 percent over intraleague games, with an average crowd of 34,097.
In two-city teams like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, it's a natural.
In Chicago, for example, allegiances to the White Sox or Cubs are hard and fast, passed down from generation to generation and unshaken by either marriage or moves. After fans spend the entire winter arguing about who has the better team and why, interleague play settles the debate - and gives half the city bragging rights for a year.
Even in cities without a natural rival, interleague is a hit. Say you live in Seattle or Minnesota. Those AL teams are fine, but it's nice treat to see the NL and its stars for a couple of series every year. And tell me the folks in Denver weren't lining up to buy tickets when they found out Derek Jeter, A-Rod and the rest of the Yankees were making a rare visit to Coors Field this summer.
(Note to Major League Baseball: If you want to make interleague even better, have the home team play by the visitors' rules. Fans in NL cities might like to see the DH. AL fans would surely be entertained watching their favorite pitcher taking a few hacks at the plate.)
``The idea of interleague play was for the fans,'' Feeney said. ``Is for the fans.''
That, remember, is what the game is all about.
Nancy Armour is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to her at narmourap.org