Members of the Texas Rangers take a walk during their workout yesterday at Busch Stadium in St. Louis where the World Series opens tonight. But minus big-market teams, and at a time when TV ratings for baseball games are dwindling, national interest may be down.
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ST. LOUIS -- A big star who's overcome personal adversity. A popular band that everyone counted out. A crazy critter with a cute nickname.
Turn on the TV this week, and you can see top talent, neat plot lines, and two loaded lineups.
So what's it going to be: Sofia Vergara on ABC or "Criminal Minds" on CBS?
Oh, the World Series? That, too.
By any measure, the matchup of the Texas Rangers and St. Louis Cardinals that starts Wednesday is a nifty one. A totally unexpected pairing, boosted by sluggers Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton and spiced by a Rally Squirrel.
But minus big-market teams, and at a time when TV ratings for baseball games are dwindling, this is the overarching question as the Series begins in the shadow of the Arch at Busch Stadium: Will anyone watch?
A Yankees cap turned backward on his head as he waited to pick up a fare in midtown Manhattan, cab driver Jay Javid of Brooklyn said he wouldn't tune in after his favorite team got eliminated.
"I'll be watching cricket," said Javid, who was born in Pakistan.
Milwaukee Brewers fan Andy Schaaf, who lives in Chicago, predicts poor TV numbers.
"Terrible," he said yesterday. "I think they'll probably be down because New York isn't in it, Boston isn't in it."
"I think there's a lot of people like me who'll watch if it gets close late, but who won't drop everything to watch Texas-St. Louis," Schaaf added.
The Rangers didn't make much of a dent last year, when their games against the San Francisco Giants drew an 8.4 rating. That matched the lowest ever for a World Series, tying Philadelphia and Tampa Bay in 2008. It was 39 percent higher when the Yankees and the Phillies played in 2009.
This October doesn't bode well for Fox, either. The Detroit-Texas and Milwaukee-St. Louis showdowns for slots in the World Series attracted little interest, compared to previous years.
"Realistically, the Yankees, love 'em or hate 'em, they're a big market, a lot of following around the country. It's the same thing with the Red Sox in a way. It is what it is," Fox Sports Vice Chairman Ed Goren said.
"I don't particularly care about the location -- Central time zone. We don't have East Coast, West Coast. I hope we have baseball fans. If you don't watch, you're not a baseball fan."
OK, so this might not be the Most Viewed Postseason. But there will be plenty of other MVPs inside the ballparks.
Hamilton, who struggled through drug-addiction demons that nearly derailed his major league career before it began, led Texas back into the Series.
Pujols helped the Cardinals make a remarkable run in the final month that culminated with them earning a playoff spot on the final day of the regular season. Adding to the intrigue:
The three-time NL MVP has spent his entire career with St. Louis, but can leave for a big-bucks contract as a free agent this winter.
"If you haven't seen us playing and you think there's no fun with the way we've been playing or the way Texas is playing, then you're not really a true fan of baseball," Pujols said.
Add in David Freese, the local guy who blossomed into a St. Louis star; Texas fixture Michael Young, who asked for a trade and then stuck around; and a plucky squirrel who scampers across home plate at Busch Stadium, and there's ample to enjoy.
"It's two middle-of-the-country teams," Texas second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "I think it's awesome that there's no coasts here."
Curt Schilling is eager to see what happens. He became part of postseason lore when he pitched with a bloody sock for Boston in 2004, and is a three-time World Series champion.
"There's a ton of stories just under the surface of the fact that, yeah, maybe these aren't two of the markets that jump off the page at you," the ESPN analyst said. "But the amount of human interest stories involved in both of these teams getting back to this place and how they did that, from the front office on down."
Mitchell Blaustein, from Sharon, Mass., wishes Schilling and the Red Sox were back this week. Rangers-Cardinals? Not so much.
"I would probably watch after somebody wins three games, out of curiosity. If it was the Red Sox, I would build my schedule around the games," he said.
Jimmy Depuys said the World Series won't be turned on in his sports-themed Marge's Bar in Grosse Pointe Park, Mich. He'll stick strictly to the NFL and NHL.
"It's going to be only Lions and Wings from here on out," he said.
Of course, he could skip the World Series and tune into the highly rated "Criminal Minds" tonight, too. They've got top-notch stars and an interesting plot this week. Something about an investigation in St. Louis, of all places.