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Interleague play stirs interest: just what it was intended to do

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Interleague play in baseball is here, and opinions on its merits are as varied as the style of play in the American and National leagues.

To opponents, having the two leagues meet in any setting other than the World Series or All-Star Game is nothing short of the latest desecration of the sport.

To proponents, it's a badly needed shot in the arm, a gimmick that will bring interest to a sport that could use it in the worst way, which, by the way, interleague play is.

"Here you have something that is very unique and very interesting. I applaud baseball. It's about time," said Fox coordinating baseball producer John Filippelli. "It's not going to take one iota away from the World Series. It hasn't taken away from the NBA Finals that Chicago and Utah met during the regular season. People who say this will take away from the World Series can't see the forest for the trees."

Fox analyst Tim McCarver, who dismissed criticism of interleague play in far racier terms than could be allowed in a family newspaper, points out one good thing about the concept is that it could finally force a decision to be made on whether the designated hitter will stay or go.

McCarver and his partner, Joe Buck, will be present at one of the more provocative of the interleague meetings, tomorrow's second game of this weekend's showdown between the Orioles and the Atlanta Braves (Channel 45, 1 p.m.).

The series, which has October overtones, finds both teams displaying their Sunday best, with Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine, the Cy Young trio, pitching for Atlanta this weekend, while the Orioles go with Jimmy Key, Mike Mussina and Scott Erickson.

"They'll come at each other," said McCarver. "When you're battling for a pennant, and neither team has anything wrapped up yet, you'll do anything you can to win."

The other games in the Orioles-Braves series air tonight at 7: 30 on Channel 13 and Sunday at 1 o'clock on Home Team Sports, as well as on TBS.

Tiger's tale

Sure, you can try to sound intelligent among your friends while talking about this weekend's U.S. Open about the chances of Steve Jones repeating as champion or how much Greg Norman loves the Congressional Country Club course, where he won two Kemper Opens when it was played there.

Heck, you could even talk about how much of an impact the par-3 18th hole will have on the outcome.

"It's a very unique situation," said NBC's Roger Maltbie. "If you ask any golfer, they'll tell you that driving the golf ball in the fairway is where all benefits are derived.

"You won't get that on 18. That's a little disappointing in some regards, but I don't think it makes it any less of a championship." But why be pretentious? Everybody else will be talking about Tiger Woods. Why shouldn't you?

This weekend and the 7,213-yard course look tailor-made for the 21-year-old Wunderkind, who, in nine months, has revolutionized and energized the game.

"Tiger could have been hyped up in other sports beyond what his play would warrant. The bottom line is that the guy has backed it up and given the sport a star that it needed," said NBC's Johnny Miller.

In its third year of U.S. Open coverage, NBC will blanket Congressional with a small army of personnel and equipment, all under the Emmy-award winning direction of Baltimore's own Bucky Gunts. In all, 25 hard cameras, five wireless mini-cams and four "rat patrol" vehicles that will wander the front and back nines, will capture the action, with 23 replay machines on hand.

As for the talent deployment, Miller and Dick Enberg will man the 18th-hole tower. Dan Hicks will work holes 5, 11 and 12, with

Dave Marr on 7, 15 and 16, and Gary Koch on 6, 13 and 14. Maltbie and Dan Pohl will serve as roving reporters.

NBC (channels 11, 4) goes on the air tomorrow and Sunday at 12: 30 p.m. with six hours of coverage each day. If the tournament is tied after Sunday, ESPN will have the first two hours of an 18-hole playoff Monday beginning at noon, with NBC picking up the rest of the coverage at 2 p.m.

Keeping in touch

Starting today, if you have questions, complaints, suggestions or, heaven forbid, compliments about what appears in this space, send them to MDKENT2ol.com

A headline above an item in yesterday's column about the NBA Finals was unintentionally offensive to some of our readers. To those who were offended by it, I am deeply sorry.

Pub Date: 6/13/97

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