Pudge facing the Marlins and bragging rights for SoCal are among the best matchups this season.
Introduced seven years ago, interleague play has undoubtedly lost some of its novelty, a fact acknowledged by its strongest proponents and its chief architect, commissioner Bud Selig.
"Not every [interleague] series is special," Selig concedes.
But, as Selig is quick to add, not every intraleague series has appeal. Sure, Pittsburgh vs. Kansas City is pretty drab, but then, so is Pittsburgh vs. Colorado or Kansas City vs. Tampa Bay, for that matter.
Thankfully, a full-scale rotation is in place -- even if there are curious turns and strange exceptions -- so that new matchups are offered. Eight years after it began, there are still some teams that haven't faced one another.
Baseball still manages to grab plenty of attention and appease its fan base with its June crossover series. In recognition of that, we offer a guide to the best -- and worst -- of interleague play.
WHEN and WHERE: June 25-27 at Yankee Stadium; July 2-4 at Shea Stadium.
WHY: Even when the Mets have struggled (the last three seasons), these meetings have been worthwhile. Simply put, the passion, interest and tradition surrounding baseball in New York is unmatched. In recent years, these games have given Yankee fans a chance to reassert their Big Apple dominance; for Mets fans, it's been a chance to salvage otherwise forgettable seasons. Now that the Mets are at least respectable again and seemingly heading in the right direction, these series will have extra juice. Too bad Roger Clemens isn't still in town to provide additional interest.
WHEN and WHERE: June 25-27 at U.S. Cellular Field; July 2-4 at Wrigley Field.
WHY: Unlike New York, where the Mets-Yankees would be special even if both teams were in the basement, this intra-city rivalry only really heats up when both teams are in contention. That's the case this year, with the White Sox holding down a portion of the AL Central and the Cubs, having stalled with injuries, ready to reassert themselves in the crowded NL Central. Cubs fans love to remind White Sox rooters that the South Siders had Sammy Sosa, only to deal him to the Cubs. For a city without a pennant-winner on either side of town since -- gulp -- 1959, could this be the year for an all-Windy City World Series?
WHEN and WHERE: June 25-27 at Dodger Stadium; July 2-4 at Angel Stadium.
WHY: The battle for SoCal supremacy is on. Think about it: Both teams have new owners; both teams are in first place in their respective divisions. The Angels have a former Dodger in their dugout and a world championship ring. The Dodgers nearly signed Vladimir Guerrero, only to lose him to ... the Angels. Add in that Anaheim owner Arte Moreno has made noise about the Angels becoming LA's real team, and the presence of quite possibly the two most unhittable relief pitchers in the game -- the Dodgers' Eric Gagne and Anaheim's Francisco Rodriguez -- and you have the makings for six very interesting games. Who says baseball passion is confined to the East Coast?
The return of the prodigal ones
WHEN and WHERE: June 11-13 at Comerica Park.
WHY: Catcher Pudge Rodriguez, on a one-year deal, helped the Marlins to a world championship last season, then was unable to agree on a multi-year contract to remain in Miami. With options dwindling, Rodriguez signed a unique multi-year deal with the Tigers that has various out clauses along the way. So far, both teams have prospered. The Marlins are in the NL East race -- though the recent injury to Ramon Castro has them seeking more catching help -- while the Tigers have put their miserable 2003 season behind them and aren't far from the break-even point.
WHEN and WHERE: June 25-27, at Camden Yards.
WHY: After spending his entire career with the Braves, catcher Javy Lopez, fresh off a career year, bolted for Baltimore where, predictably, he's hit well in Camden Yards. This won't be an emotionally charged reunion, however. The Braves are all too accustomed in recent years to seeing veterans walk away: Gary Sheffield, Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux have all left in the last two seasons.
WHEN and WHERE: June 15-17 at PNC Park.
WHY: Before Raul Mondesi could unpack in Pittsburgh, his union with the Pirates was annulled. Mondesi cited personal and financial problems, returned to his native Dominican and had his contract voided. Some in baseball believe this was merely a ploy for Mondesi to go to a better team. Now, weeks later, Mondesi will return with the Angels. Don't expect a royal welcome.
WHO: Boston Red Sox vs. Los Angeles Dodgers.
WHEN and WHERE: June 11-13 at Fenway Park.
WHY: Boston developer Frank McCourt tried to buy the Red Sox three years ago. Unsuccessful, he took aim 3,000 miles away and landed the Dodgers. Now, McCourt has a homecoming, and so, too, do his Dodgers. The last time they came to Boston, it was as the visitors in the last regular-season series at Braves Field, once home to the Boston (nee Milwaukee; nee Atlanta) Braves.
WHO: New York Yankees vs. Arizona Diamondbacks.
WHEN and WHERE: June 15-17 at Bank One Ballpark.
WHY: This is where the Yankees championship drought -- if one can safely call three years a drought -- began. Remember? The Yanks led in the ninth inning of Game 7 and had Mariano Rivera on the mound. A fourth straight title seemed assured. But the D-Backs fought back and stole the game on Luis Gonzalez's soft liner over Derek Jeter's head. No doubt, it must seem like a long time ago for both teams.
WHO: Cleveland Indians vs. Atlanta Braves.
WHEN and WHERE: June 18-20, at Turner Field.
WHY: In the 1990s, the Indians and Braves combined to win seven pennants and opened state-of-the-art ballparks, serving to resuscitate interest in the franchises of each city. Most memorably, they met in the 1995 World Series, won by the Braves, their one victorious trip to the Fall Classic in a handful of tries. Nine years later, the teams are rebuilding and the new century hasn't been as kind to either the Braves or Indians. The Indians have already bottomed out; the Braves are still working on their consecutive division title streak, but that seems in jeopardy now more than an ever.
Sean McAdam of the Providence (R.I.) Journal covers baseball for ESPN.com.
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