Tonight is the first night for interleague play in baseball in the 2010 season. The Cincinnati Reds have made the drive north to Cleveland to take on the Indians. As it stands tonight, the Reds lead the National League Central Division, and the Indians bring up the rear of the American League Central Division, but in their interleague matchup the Reds and Indians are almost dead even for wins and losses, so it should be an interesting game. At the time of writing, it is the top of the fourth, and the game is tied 1-1, so it remains either team’s game to win.
Ever since 1997, when Interleague play was adopted into Major League Baseball, the Reds and Indians have been meeting as state rivals, and similar matchups take place all across the nation. The New York Mets are playing the New York Yankees, and the Philadelphia Phillies are hosting the Boston Red Sox. Later in the year the Chicago Cubs will host their cross city rivals White Sox.
All in all, I like interleague play. Before 1997, anytime a team, or even a player, from either league saw one from the opposing league it was during Spring Training, the All·Star Game, or the World Series. The separation between the American and the National Leagues was a mile wide and a wall of iron. The only real difference between the leagues, as far as rules go, is in the American League with the implementation of the designated hitter, a player that bats in place of the pitcher, but who doesn’t play defensively. Despite this minor difference, the leagues seem to have an intangible difference: the National League is said to be more offensive, the American League is more of a pitcher’s league.
I like interleague play because I like seeing teams from opposing leagues play each other. Because the separation existed for over 100 years, the novelty is still fresh. Secondly, I have been an Indians fan my entire life, which means I have become a bit of an American League fan, but I have never really liked the designated hitter rule. My personal philosophy is that if you play defense you play offense. Pitchers should not be exempted because of their “special” status as a specialized position player. National League pitchers have been hitting since the dawn of baseball and still manage to pitch extremely well. Let’s not forget that Babe Ruth, the most legendary hitter in all of baseball, was a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees. Sure, pitchers today are way more targeted than in Ruth’s time, but I think the logic holds.
Lastly, I like the idea of interleague play because it brings teams to town that otherwise a fan would not often see. Cleveland and Cincinnati are close enough that one could make the occasional drive to the other city, or in Chicago or New York one can simply take a subway or cab to the other stadium, but I doubt many people make the 5 and 1/2 hour drive between Boston and Philadelphia to be a fan of both the Red Sox and the Phillies. Now, at least three times during the season, a fan can see opposing league teams ride right into town and play the home team. In the era of internet and TV televised games, going out to the ballpark is still time well spent, and if you can see a team you would never before see, that is a bonus for fans.
As of 2010, every team in each league has played every other team at least once, and I hope that Interleague play continues into the future. I for one look forward to seeing which National League teams will come into Cleveland, and which cities the Indians will visit that they normally don’t see. This year, I am eager to see the Philadelphia Phillies cruise into Cleveland, because having spent several years in central Pennsylvania I have become a Phillies fan. Because my teams sit in opposing leagues, the opportunity that I would have to pick one over the other to cheer for is a limited prospect. In a few weeks, I will be forced to make that decision, but it is easy: I cheer for the Indians. Always first, foremost, and forever. However, my rational assessment of each team leads me to believe that the Phillies will beat the living daylights out of the Tribe, as currently the Phillies are the best team in the National League, and the Indians are close to the worst team in the American League. But, there is still plenty of baseball to play, and anything can happen.
Speaking of which, while I was writing this post, the Reds jumped ahead of the Indians 4-1, but in the last Indians’ at bat, Shin-Soo Choo of the Tribe went deep, hitting a two run home run helping his team tie the game 4-4. The top of the sixth is under way, and still either team could wind up with the win.
This is why baseball is the best sport in the world.