« Thoughts off the top of an open mind | Main | Revisiting Jeffrey Maier: Forgive that swine? »

Notes on a friendly neighborhood baseball game

For Orioles fans, this was the instant, take-home message of Friday night's 5-1 win over the host Nationals:

"We may suck, but at least we suck less than you [the Nats]."

Honestly, though, it was a beautiful night in the neighborhood, and even more so if you were an O's fan. Although Nationals supporters clearly had the edge in numbers at RFK yesterday, a sizeable contingent cheered the Orioles as if Baltimore was the home team and not the visitors. (Nats fans now understand how it feels when throngs of Yankee and Red Sox followers invade Camden Yards every year.) These Baltimoreans (or Baltimorons, depending on your point of view) came to Washington with a chip on their shoulder, as if they wanted to prove that their loyalty to the Birds was not the Johnny-come-lately kind, that it was not a love "like a red, red rose / That's newly sprung in June," but a diehard devotion forged by season after season of ups and (more recently) downs. In other words, these faithful followers of the Orioles weren't the kind to change their feathers just because another baseball team set up camp in D.C. with a bigger bird as its mascot. (Have you seen the Nationals' mascot, Screech? Eech!) Proudly wearing their orange-and-black gear, Oriole fans made sure the "O" was accentuated in the last couplet of the national anthem. They filled the stadium with persistent cries of "Let's go, O's" throughout the game. They roared enthusiastically whenever the Orioles scored. They made sure they were seen as well as heard. Sometimes it seemed like they were trying a little too hard to be noticed, like a neglected middle child.

Meanwhile, the genteel Nats fans, seemingly unaccustomed to such an intrusion, failed to garner much of a response—their attempts at a "Let's go, Nats" riposte were generally overpowered by the visiting fans' cries. And the home team gave them little to cheer for on this evening, as the Orioles' Kris Benson quieted the Nats' bats in a complete-game five-hitter. Only a late upper-deck smash by Alfonso Soriano kept Washington from being blanked in the runs column.

A once and future rivalry

Earlier Friday, Jason Brennan of the Frederick News-Post had an insightful and prophetic commentary about the first regular-season meeting between the Orioles and the Nationals, predicting rightly that "Orioles fans will be just as loud at RFK as Nationals fans are this weekend" and that "the 'Oh' in ... the National Anthem will sound like you're in Baltimore." He quoted the wrong line for the "Oh"—it's not the one from "O say can you see" but the one in "O say does that star-spangled..."—but anyway, we know what he meant.

(Apparently the "O" has been shouted in the anthem at RFK even when the Orioles haven't been in town. Chalk that up to fans who grew up learning baseball—and the Star-Spangled Banner—the Oriole way. To twist a MacArthurism: old habits never die; they just fade away.)

Towards the end of his column, Brennan takes a sanguine stance on the long-term health of the Orioles and Nationals; he implies that time will eventually add fuel to the rivalry. To me, it seems likely that someday the Nationals will gain the upper hand in the so-called Battle of the Beltways, at least economically; Washington's population demographics are just too strong to ignore, and the new stadium that is being built will undoubtedly help attract a new generation of fans. But Baltimore has its own large and fervent baseball following built on a tradition of winning, a tradition that still survives in memory, if not in recent evidence.

Baseball, more than any other sport, loves to draw on its history, and more specifically it loves to commemorate winners. The Orioles at least have a rich, continuous history stretching back over half a century, whereas the Nationals are somewhat disconnected from their schizoid past, which contains two branches of failure—on the one hand the former Montreal Expos, and on the other the bumbling Washington Senators.

That doesn't mean things will necessarily stay that way. With the Nationals providing competition for loyalties (and dollars) in the Orioles' backyard, winning becomes doubly critical from now on. To minimize fan attrition, the Orioles need to reverse their losing ways and become a self-sustaining, competitive team, preferably before the Nationals' new stadium opens in 2009. If not, Baltimore's fortunes could sink in a southerly direction, if you catch my drift.

National endowments

Baseball-related game notes: I was skeptical of Baltimore's acquisition of Benson over the winter, and I wasn't extremely impressed with the trade for Corey Patterson either, but on Friday night those two National League imports acquitted themselves well. Benson shut down an underpowered Nats lineup, never getting into serious trouble—of his 110 pitches, he threw 73 strikes (66 percent) and allowed just two walks, staying close to the strike zone and making use of his fielders and RFK's expansive greenery.

Meanwhile, C-Pat was at his scampering, free-swinging best. He chased down everything hit his way in center field, making several running catches in the gaps with ease. And he was an offensive standout as well, reaching base three times in five plate appearances and scoring two runs. His triple to right drove in the game's first run in the sixth, and he added a walk, a single, and a stolen base. When Patterson's on his game, he can really fill a box score. Trouble is, he hasn't shown much consistency or growth in his game over the last few years. More on him later.

Addendum: A somewhat different take on the game by Thomas Boswell, “A Little Noise Says Something,” appeared in Saturday's Washington Post.


This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on May 20, 2006 8:17 AM.

The previous post in this blog was Thoughts off the top of an open mind.

The next post in this blog is Revisiting Jeffrey Maier: Forgive that swine?.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

Powered by
Movable Type 3.33