Washington fans really love the game, but not the Orioles

John Steadman

May 24, 1993|By John Steadman

Most of the tourists from Washington, condescending to travel to Baltimore to see the Orioles at play, are without question devoted to baseball. They get high marks for that. There's no provincialism on their part, since they are merely expressing a love of the game.

They don't have an emotional attachment to the team. Or to anything indigenous to Baltimore, such as crab cakes, oyster fritters and the Orioles. Why should they?

They get in on a good thing by buying tickets to see the American League at play and are there strictly for the entertainment value. It's a crying shame Washington didn't succeed in getting a National League expansion franchise. It would have been a sporting gesture if the Orioles had helped their neighboring city.

Certainly, Larry Lucchino, the Orioles president, could have put in a good word. Baseball should be in the nation's capital. A competing club in Washington, even in another league, would have compelled the Orioles to be more considerate to the cause of Baltimore -- rather than playing to a constituency in both cities.

Bottom line: A team in Washington would have benefited the fans of Baltimore, which is why we hoped it would happen. Competition is the crux of the issue. It would have kept prices in line in Baltimore, but, of course, the Washington-bashers living here were too limited, or parochial, to figure out what was happening to them.

The result is they took it on the chin and the Orioles, "the only game in two towns," so to speak, are in position to dictate the terms. A take-it-or-leave-it deal is never any good.

One contributing factor why the new ballpark in Baltimore can have an attendance of 45,000, and yet be as quiet as the inside of a cemetery, is because the sizable Washington crowd segment is totally objective. They come to see baseball -- the greatest game God ever gave man the opportunity to invent -- and aren't about to cry in their champagne if Cal Ripken or Gregg Olson have a bad performance.

There's no reason for visitors from Washington to live and die with the old hometown team any more than this reporter, as a kid, would have suffered agony attacks over the then-woeful Senators. For contrast, hypothetically speaking, would Baltimore be traveling to Washington to see major-league baseball if it was there and not here?

Absolutely not. It wouldn't happen. Baltimore has to have a personal interest for it to become involved. Indicative of this kind of home team enthusiasm, we once had a school chum, Doug Fleming by name, who would knock his head against the wall to relieve frustration any time the International League Orioles lost a game.

Such a condition could have led to serious problems, but Fleming grew up to be an intelligent man, took his place in the community and contributed to making it a better place for his fellow citizens. He's the secretary for the Oldtimers Baseball Association and doing a grand job. The self-induced head-knocking, if anything, made him smarter.

Tom Callahan, a truly outstanding sportswriter, had a column in yesterday's Washington Post where he dealt with the difficulty the District of Columbia has in gaining a reliable sports identity, even though it has major-league franchises in football, basketball and ice hockey. Callahan's ethics are important to him, which means he wouldn't shill for Washington or anyplace else.

"Washington's adopted baseball team, the Baltimore Orioles, is currently battling the Cleveland Indians for last place," he wrote. "But everyone is still oohing and aahing over the new-old ballpark at Camden Yards, which is at least twice as charming as a kerosene lamp with an electric bulb inside."

Callahan, who is Baltimore-born, raised, educated and started his newspaper career on The Evening Sun, is right. He sees the park for what it is -- an expensive copy of other facilities, accompanied by enormous hype. Proof again that if you say something often enough it almost becomes gospel, except to the discriminating who are able to think for themselves.

The Orioles don't mind selling their product in Washington, but it's difficult to determine if the money in the cash register came from Baltimore or Washington sources. It's likewise impossible to make a Washington visitor have the same love in his heart as the Baltimore fanatic because one cares and the other doesn't.

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