THE BALTIMORE ORIOLES, in a span of six days, will make the case for both sides of the debate that has stirred fans over interleague play.
Baseball has long been unique among American sports in that its two leagues never played one another in games that counted until the autumn championship rounds. That changes this weekend, when teams in the American and National leagues play each other for the first time during the regular season.
The Orioles travel to Atlanta to take on the Braves. Each boasts the most wins in its league and each has saved its best pitchers for this showdown. Interest in the games, described as a preview of the 1997 World Series, runs high, even beyond Baltimore and Atlanta.
After that, the Orioles return home to play the Montreal Expos. Though the Orioles touted the games as "historic," frequent TV promos to drum up sales suggest the match-up holds all the appeal of crabs and milk to fans. This being Camden Yards, however, the Orioles have finally sold all but a few thousand seats.
No doubt, some traditional fans -- a redundancy since baseball fans are by their nature teary traditionalists -- could only think of an Orioles-Expos matchup as a meaningless exhibition. Perhaps some unexpected interleague rivalries will mature, though it will take longer than the two years that Major League Baseball has set aside for this experiment.
Non-fans will snicker over so much ado about nothing. Others will say it's simply a marketing tool that acknowledges baseball as entertainment. That leaves the rest of us who rue the change, knowing that baseball is more than a product. It's faith. Of course, even religions have been known to bend their rules to maintain or enlarge their flock. Both leagues play essentially the same game (the heretical "designated hitter" rule aside). Interleague games? Just think of them as visiting a different house of worship once in a while.
Pub Date: 6/13/97