Regionalism revisited, on the playing fields of Balwash

October 09, 1997|By Peter A. Jay

HAVRE DE GRACE -- With the Orioles playing for -- and soon to win, if justice prevails -- the championship of the American League, this is a good time to examine certain aspects of civic pride.

It can be argued, of course, that the O's aren't really Baltimore's team -- whatever it says on their shirts when they're out of town. Nor are they really Maryland's. They belong to the region, a big place with somewhat fuzzy boundaries that includes the adjacent counties, and southern Pennsylvania and our neighbor down the road, the District of Columbia.

We're all in this together, whether we live in Stewartstown, or Severna Park, or Highlandtown, or Seat Pleasant, or Anacostia, or in Fairfax County.

The concept of a team just representing a city is sort of outdated, isn't it? Back when the late Edward Bennett Williams wanted to move the Orioles to Washington, a lot of us got pretty excited. But,in retrospect, I guess we were being pretty parochial.

Joint custody

With all respect to Mr. Peter Angelos, the Orioles belong to all of us, don't they? And the same is true of the Redskins, the Ravens and the Bullets (oops, I think they're now the Widgets or something). Washington, Baltimore. Baltimore City, Baltimore County. Prince George's, Prince William. There's no real difference. We're all just folks, and fans, together.

Some people, I gather, don't agree with that. They haven't gotten the word. They cling to the discredited old notion that cities and towns, counties and neighborhoods, have vivid distinctions as well as mushy congruities.

Such unenlightened people aren't necessarily insular. They're not against sharing many of their values. They share certain of them with other Americans, hyphenated or otherwise; with other Marylanders; with other Republicans or Democrats; with other Roman Catholics or Orthodox Jews; with others who love fishing, or Bach, or the Birds.

But even in those important alliances, what bonds them one to another is not only what they share among themselves. It's also what they don't share with the rest of the world, meaning those outside the special circle. What would be the point in being an Orioles fan if most of the rest of the world didn't favor other teams?

Even though that's no longer a proper point of view, there are still some of yesterday's people around who persist in holding it, and applying it to where they live as well as to the team they support. They think a place's differences, more than its samenesses, are what tend make it special, and which define its character. They'd say that any place worth living in is in some way unique.

That's why certain Baltimoreans of a yesterday's outlook were so glad to see the recent visitors from Seattle chased back to their coffeehouses and their drizzle. And why the visitors from Seattle, with their tails between their legs, were undoubtedly glad to go.

All this is on my mind in part because of baseball and in part because the last time I wrote on the subject of regionalism it kicked up a horrendous fuss.

The idea that the very real urban problems of Baltimore could be ameliorated if only the surrounding counties were more helpful I dismissed as a delusion, and a thinly camouflaged attempt to pick the pockets of suburban taxpayers.

Quite a few people, including some good friends, denounced me for taking a parochial -- one person called it ''jingoistic'' -- point of view.

They said I was confusing ''regional government'' with ''regionalism,'' and sowing discord between the city and the counties.

It was explained to me that regional government, which, with its implications of taxes and regulations, the voters have made it clear they consider objectionable, is a bad thing.

But regionalism, which hasn't ever been clearly defined, let alone presented to the electorate, would achieve all the same desirable objectives without making anybody unhappy, and is therefore a good thing. So I stand corrected.

As for discord between the city and the counties, it's hard to imagine that there could ever be such a thing.

I remember when a former governor of Maryland, an outspoken gentleman who had also been mayor of Baltimore, referred in Annapolis to ''that s---house of an Eastern Shore.'' And, gosh, you should have heard the merry laughter from across the Bay.

Obviously, to create a successful society, we all have to try to get along. Cooperation, regional or otherwise, is generally desirable -- unless it's coerced, in which case it's counterproductive.

Healthy differences

But even though it's not always acceptable under current doctrine to say so, local differences, local pride, and even local antagonisms can be healthy, too.

As Baltimore's Orioles march on toward the pennant, they'll be cheered not only by the hometown folks, but by fans from Washington and York, as well. That doesn't mean, though, that the name on the players' shirts for out-of-town games ought to say Baltimore-Washington Metropolitan Region.

Peter A. Jay is a writer and farmer.

Pub Date: 10/09/97

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