Over Memorial Day weekend, baseball fans were treated to something a little different. Last Friday marked the beginning of interleague play for 2009. Interleague play is when teams from the American League and the National League play against each other, something that didn't happen in professional baseball for many years.
History: Although professional baseball started in the late 1800s, the National League and the American Leagues always remained separate. The only time teams from the two leagues would play each other was in spring training exhibition games and special occasions like the All-Star game and the World Series. Starting in 1997, though, Major League Baseball instituted interleague play. It became popular with fans and remains so to this day.
Regional Rivalries: Fans enjoy interleague play for a number of reasons. One reason is that it promotes rivalries between teams in the same region. For example, the New York Mets and the New York Yankees never played each other in the regular season. After 1997, though, the two New York teams play against each other six times a year in the "Subway Series." Fans in New York get a chance to watch their teams play each other, and both stadiums are always sold out during the series. The same thing is true in Chicago, when the Cubs and White Sox play each other, and in Northern California, when the Oakland A's play the San Francisco Giants.
Historical Matchups: One of the best parts about interleague play is that it creates matchups that remind fans of things that happened in the past. For example, in 2004, the Red Sox played the Giants, the first time the two teams had met since the 1912 World Series. Interleague play gives fans a chance to celebrate baseball's rich history and tradition.
New Players: Interleague play lets fans watch players that they otherwise wouldn't normally get to see play. This past weekend, the Toronto Blue Jays visited the Atlanta Braves. Fans at Turner Field in Atlanta saw superstar Roy Halladay pitch for Toronto, an experience they wouldn't get without interleague play.
Fans like interleague play because it offers a change of pace while still keeping baseball's strong connection with history. One of baseball's most important features is its traditions, and interleague play has created some popular new traditions that bring a lot to the sport.
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