Students drop differences then ask teams to

ACTON, Mass. -- Tensions were running high on the Merriam School playground.

Yankees fans and Red Sox fans were relentlessly taunting each other, and the fun of Boston's comeback win in the 2004 ALCS was being lost.

As school officials worked to calm the students, they had a radical idea: Why not extend their peacemaking efforts to the big league level?

Their project to get the Red Sox and Yankees to shake hands before Boston's home opener April 11 at Fenway Park has since been endorsed by Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.

Red Sox manager Terry Francona called the school to tell officials he liked the "The Merriam School Handshake Project,"
though he added he won't force it on the players.

"If our guys want to go shake some hands, they're going to do it," Francona said. "I'm not going to make them."

The plan goes against a big league rule that discourages fraternization between opposing players while in uniform, though the rule is occasionally flouted. In professional hockey, handshakes between opposing teams are a routine part of
series-ending play in the postseason.

The Merriam School drew up the plan after school assemblies addressed sportsmanship. Students put together a PowerPoint show, and mailed and e-mailed it with letters urging team owners, managers and captains to support the opening-day shake.

The PowerPoint show begins with an image of students saying, "We look up to you."

A series of photos follows, with one showing Boston's Jason Varitek brawling with New York's Alex Rodriguez. Another portrays children shaking their fists at one another. Beneath that image, a caption reads, "We follow your example."

"Fans and players are getting too worked up about what's just a game," the students wrote in their letter to baseball commissioner Bud Selig. "The negativity and intensity is influencing children's sportsmanship after our own sports games.

"After children's sports games, we shake hands with the team we're playing. If kids can show good sportsmanship, then
professionals can, too."

Steinbrenner had an enthusiastic reaction to the plan, according to spokesman Howard Rubenstein.

"He thinks it's a great idea," Rubenstein said.