This weekend sets off the first round of interleague play in Major League Baseball. That means it also sets off one of the most tiresome and over debated topics in sports, whether or not someone likes interleague play. The fact is, like it or not, it is here and has been around now since 1997. That also means the debate has been around that long too, and while I don’t mind debate and dissenting opinions on good topics when presented intelligently and well, what more can be said on this one. What’s needed is Gov. Nixon to come out and say, “I am rooting for the Cardinals until the Royals get more competitive,” or “Winner of this series gets public funding for stadium upgrades!” Now that would spark some fun discussion.
The fans that do not like it will never like it but will still watch. The fans that do like it will still want it. In a season when a hot topic around MLB parks has been declining attendance or at least no-shows on tickets bought, interleague play will once again make sure that nearly every seat is filled, parking lots are packed, and hot dog lines are long and slow. It has been a success for baseball and will continue to be one.
It has gone beyond just the rivalries and the tickets sold as well. When the schedules come out every winter now, or some games leaked well in advance of that, fans look for several things. When is opening day? When does your team play its most hated rivals? And what teams are you playing this season in interleague play? It matters. While I am indifferent at this point on the merits or demerits of interleague play, the yearly discussions never change. I’d be happy to listen if there is a new angle or different approach on liking it or not. But there does not seem to be. It’s either I like seeing teams from the other league, or I liked it the way it was then the two leagues didn’t meet until the World Series.
The reality is baseball itself is as much interleague on a daily basis than it’s ever been. The days of someone staying with a team for a career appear to be long gone. Players jump leagues all the time now through trades and free agency. It doesn’t raise an eyebrow anymore when someone from Baltimore signs with Houston or someone from LA signs with Boston. Look at how the players handle things before and even during games with the fraternization and laughter. The lines, if not gone, appear completely blurred. There is no rivalry anymore in the American League vs National League. The players bounce around too much and too many former teammates are on other teams or in the other league.
Sure the newness of interleague play has long since worn off, but the bottom line is it has been successful for baseball. Until someone can come up with a new wrinkle as to why it’s bad or show it does not work at the gate, it’s not going anywhere. So until something changes, I say enough of the debate and enjoy the games. Play Ball!