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Take One For The Other Team

An O's Fan Suggests The Unthinkable--That You Watch The Nationals, Too

Frank Klein
DIVIDED LOYALTIES: Harold Hirsch has space in his heart for both the O's and Nats.

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Take One For The Other Team An O's Fan Suggests The Unthinkable--That You Watch The Nationals, Too | By Jeffrey Anderson

By Jeffrey Anderson | Posted 5/21/2008

The Orioles were playing the Nationals at Wash-ington's newly minted baseball stadium on March 29, and among the crowd there could be heard a rousing "O" during "The Star-Spangled Banner"-- as in, "Oh say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave . . . "

Baltimore fans have been chanting "O" during the national anthem for years at Camden Yards and Memorial Stadium. At Nationals Park, however, it sounded strange. Perhaps it was a trivial moment before a meaningless exhibition game, but it also raised an interesting prospect: Why not make outings to Nationals Park a regular part of summer?

For years, Orioles owner Peter Angelos beat back efforts to return baseball to the nation's capital. The assumption was he feared a loss of ticket revenue, as folks from Virginia, D.C., and its Maryland suburbs might stop trekking up to Charm City to watch baseball as they have since the Washington Senators left town in 1971.

Maybe there's something to that, but now that the Nats have built a tasty new ballpark with all the amenities, Baltimoreans are not losing fellow O's fans as much they are gaining a National League team and an opportunity to bond with their neighbors to the south.

Sure, everyone's had it with the hype about Nationals Park. The cheerleading from the sportswriters at The Washington Post, ballyhooing the opening of the city's $611 million publicly funded stadium, is getting stale. And there's that bitter Sun opinion piece by George Weigel, back in March, who gave thanks for the Orioles' ability to be Baltimore's team again, without the baggage of having to serve as the MLB club for an entire region. "That rootedness can be reclaimed, now that the siren song of Washington marketing and regionalism has, necessarily, abated," he wrote.

But really, Major League Baseball in the nation's capital--how can you resist it?

Die-hard baseball fan Harold Hirsch has been supporting both teams since there were two teams to support. A tax lawyer who lives and works on Capitol Hill, Hirsch moved to the D.C. area in 1968. When Angelos built Camden Yards right near I-95 on the south side of town, making it easy for Washingtonians to get to the new ballpark, he was all over it.

Even in recent years, as the O's have stunk up the joint, Hirsch has taken in 15 games a year at Camden Yards. He sees 35 Nationals' games a year, and switches his outfits depending on which park he's at. When he goes to Baltimore, he drives 45 minutes up the parkway, parks west of Russell Street, buys a bag of peanuts, and heads right in. "Cheapest entertainment there is," he says. "You can't beat it."

Baltimoreans could find the journey equally smooth to either the Greenbelt or New Carrollton Metro stop, with subway service to within walking distance of Nationals Park. Or park for free at RFK Stadium and take a free shuttle. There's even a cement plant just outside the park in case you get homesick for that industrial vibe.

The point is you now have a National League park within striking distance to complement the American League experience at classy Camden Yards. If you never liked the designated hitter, now's your chance to see "real" baseball on a regular basis.

Of the two ballpark experiences, Hirsch says: "Aesthetically, Camden Yards is the best ballpark there is, but at Nationals Park, the sightlines are unparalleled. If Camden Yards was down here and Nationals Park was up there, I'd do the exact same thing."

Like Hirsch, plenty of Baltimore fans have already taken advantage of the joys of living in a two-team market. Joshua Devaparsad, a 9-year-old Baltimore native, recently made his first trip to the new park and he can't stop talking about it, according to his mom. Medfield resident and City Paper calendar editor Wendy Ward, an appreciator of all things Baltimore, has a key with a Nationals' logo--the signature curly w--to go along with her red Nats baseball cap.

Obviously, there are those who will end up choosing one baseball park to frequent over another. For this very reason, the Orioles may have noticed ticket sales dip due to the lure of the understated, highly accessible and modern new park that the Nationals have built on the banks of the Anacostia River, at the foot of the Frederick Douglass Bridge in southeast D.C.

Take Dave Woodward, a lifelong Orioles fan. Growing up in Cambridge, on the Eastern Shore, the 42-year-old always went to a couple games a year at Memorial Stadium. Even after he moved to D.C. in his 20s, he went to a dozen games a year at Camden Yards.

But all that changed with the Nationals coming to D.C. in 2005. "I started to drift, though at first I still watched the Orioles on TV," says Woodward, who is married with two kids. "Now I just read the box score. I guess you could say I've embraced D.C.'s home team."

Woodward says there are others like him: baseball fans in and around D.C. who've stopped going to games in Baltimore. "I still like the orange and black," he says. "I feel a little bad for abandoning them. But they'll always have a place in my heart."

Not that Baltimoreans should abandon their team, but it makes good karmic sense to get to know the other half of what could someday be a historic October showdown--a "Beltway Series," or a "Parkway Series." Another way to look at it, if you harbor anti-Washington sentiment, is you can venture south to watch the Nats struggle for respectability. O's fans can relate to that.

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