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Friday, May 16, 2008

Red Sox Commentary

Simple question: where are those Braves?

Once the weather lets up this weekend, for their May appetizer to the heftier plate of June interleague play, the Red Sox will serve up an interesting dish of casual nostalgia with a three-game set against an ex-AL cohabitant from Milwaukee.

Looking ahead, there will be a 15-game, 17-day featuring get-togethers with the Reds, Cardinals, Phillies, Diamondbacks, and Astros, all wrapping up at the tail end of June.

See a problem? No, it's not the fact that this is neither spring training nor the World Series. Interleague play, introduced back in 1997, has survived to adolesence and is rightfully here to stay. Get used to it.

The glitch in scheduling is this: for the first time since baseball came its senses and desegregated its regular season schedule, the Sox will not cross paths with their one legitimate NL rival, the Atlanta Braves.

Now, there is something that I have grown so used to, you have to wonder why it's being kept in the cooler this year. Even I nod assent to the temperate ludicrousness in calling this matchup "The Boston Showdown," though that aspect does offer an intriguing bite-sized history lesson.

True, this day and age, Braves-Red Sox provides nowhere near the civic implications of Mets-Yankees, Cubs-White Sox, or even -if you insist- Angels-Dodgers. But you don't always have to clear the Monster seats to percolate a good ruckus, know what I'm saying?

Even with the geographic discrepancy, this kind of matchup has a lot of the requisite ingredients to be a worthwhile rivalry, and when it's been placed on the field, it has proven its worth.

Granted, it's easy to forget what with the revolutionary developments in Red Sox Nation and the ardent responses from the new Bronx regime. But there was a time when the Braves were as close as the NL was to fielding a nose-to-nose Yankee counterpart.

Actually, after clinching the 1995 world championship, they essentially acted as a prelude to the post-2000 Yankees. Up through 2005, they continued to win the division on an all but unchallenged basis under a firmly established manager (Bobby Cox) yet made faltering in October an equal habit.

And no, you may not have heard anybody from Liberty Media, second-year owners of the Braves after long-rigid ties to Time Warner were severed, indignantly questioning the explicit existence of Red Sox Nation. Maybe you would, though, if TBS was still laying out the action at Turner Field for some of the most disinterested markets to see every day all season.

But all in all, the contesting products on the field -which some of you may have forgotten is the vital organ of this business anyhow- have their appreciable similarities. These two franchises are at a point where they always start their season as revered, presumed contenders. When they can't follow through on that -a quintessential case being the 2006 season- it's plain agonizing for themselves and their fan bases.

Furthermore, while it is nowhere close on the tension scale to the annual Red Sox-Yankees race, the other New York baseball establishment is typically a prime suspect in the Braves' collection of NL East roadblocks. (Come to think of it, it's also a rip that -for the second straight year now- there are no Sox-Mets fixtures to be found). That said, if you've got two traditional powerhouses who don't particularly like New York, what are their fans going to do for fun animosity while the Subway Series is going on?

Seemingly, the most common wherefore employed in the futile case against interleague play is that there isn't an exciting match for every team. Well, yeah, especially when one league (baseball lexicon for conference) has more tenants than the other. But are you saying that Padres-Nationals would be that much more appealing than Padres-Orioles?

The point is, it's not like there aren't any intriguing AL-NL matchups period. The Red Sox and Braves have their decent pairing in one another. And this is the only major sport whose schedule can really breed and nurture such rivalries. (Sorry, Jets-Giants, one matchup a year won't get me to buy it. Celtics-Lakers, we'll see what happens and perhaps talk in a month).

So, if you're one of those franchises lucky enough to have one of these rivalries, be grateful and use it.

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