Baseball fans' loyalty dilemma

Switch: State residents with ties to Washington may face a choice if a team ends up there.

D.c. Roots For A Home Team

September 24, 2004|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

IN MARYLAND

Suppose you live in Annapolis or Ellicott City.

Suppose also that you couldn't believe your eyes when Tippy Martinez picked off three Blue Jays in the 10th to save a win in the Orioles' 1983 championship season, that the "Why Not?" summer of 1989 was one of the happiest of your life, that you fought back tears when Cal Ripken homered in consecutive game 2,131.

Finally, suppose you work in Washington and maybe even root for the Redskins.

Which baseball team do you love and support if, as many expect, Major League Baseball's owners send the Montreal Expos to Washington?

Orioles' owner Peter G. Angelos says there's a good chance you'll defect and cost him money. But you have all those warm, black-and-orange-tinted memories. On the other hand, National League baseball could be a breath of fresh air after seven seasons of Yankee and Red Sox tramplings.

It's a dilemma baseball fans who live between the two cities are confronting in different ways.

Fandom can be complicated, said sports sociologist Merrill Melnick, because fans are not all cut from the same cloth. In fact, Melnick said, many who attend sports events are not fans at all but spectators. They're the types for whom a short drive, convenient parking and tasty food are as important as the teams on the field.

"I think that group would certainly be more vulnerable to switching," said Melnick, who teaches at the State University of New York-Brockport and co-wrote a book on sports fans.

"But fans have a more emotional and psychological attachment to the teams, and I think Mr. Angelos' fears, at least regarding those people, are somewhat ill-founded," he said.

Melnick should know. He left New York City more than 20 years ago, but he said his devotion to the Giants, the Knicks and the Yankees has not waned. "It helps me resurrect my relationship with my father and pleasant memories of the past, and I think it's that way for a lot of fans," Melnick said. "It's who I am."

There are the die-hard Orioles folks like Bob Edwards, who works in the Dugoutzone baseball card shop in Ellicott City. "I just would not attach myself to whatever they'd call that team down there," he said.

There are the Washington-oriented people who remember the Senators and can't wait to have a team again. "I hate the way the people up there say, `O' during the `Star-Spangled Banner,'" said Mike Judge, a Potomac resident whose grandfather, Joe, played first base for the Senators in the 1920s. "I think people would come to watch baseball in D.C. in droves."

And there are the people who say they'd be fans of both teams. "I'd love it. It'd just be more baseball," said Louis Kelley, a Northern Virginia resident who attends about six Orioles games a year and would happily add Washington games to that slate.

Orioles lovers say there's little chance they'd cast their loyalties aside. They've admired Brooks Robinson's warmth, Boog Powell's jocularity and Cal Ripken's fortitude for as long as they can remember. They wince when they drive down 33rd Street and see no stadium. The old "Orioles Magic" radio jingle won't leave their heads.

"I'd love it if the Washington team's arrival would cause the Orioles to put Baltimore back on their jerseys," said Edwards, who lives in Columbia. "I think this idea that the Orioles are dependent on D.C. is a lot more overblown than the reality."

Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens, who has thrown out first pitches at Camden Yards, said she is, "without a doubt, a Baltimore Orioles fan, and that will not change," even though her county includes both metropolitan areas

But Washington has its own baseball history: Walter "Big Train" Johnson, maybe the greatest pitcher ever, wonderfully named Hall of Fame outfielder Goose Goslin, Ted Williams as manager, slugger Frank Howard, who inspired fielders' nightmares with his wicked line drives.

Some said that history will make it easier for fans to adopt a new team, much as old Colts fans have embraced the Ravens.

"I think people my age and older remember going to RFK, and they love the Senators," said Judge, 40, who wrote a published memoir about his grandfather called Damn Senators: My Grandfather and the Story of Washington's Only World Series Championship.

Judge said he remembers Jim Palmer making a dismissive comment about the Senators in 1970, when the Orioles were at their peak. "I felt a real animosity toward Baltimore," he said.

He believes the two cities, one proudly low-key and the other the epitome of hoity-toity, deserve their own teams. "They're so different," Judge said. "Imagine interleague play between the Orioles and the Senators. That would be great."

Many are comfortable as fence-straddlers.

Gambrills resident Craig Shoots said he likes going to Camden Yards but would also like to see more of National League stars such as Barry Bonds play in Washington. "I'd be just as interested in one as the other," he said. "It expands the opportunity for the fan."

Kelley grew up in Washington and pulled for the woeful Senators until they moved away when he was 8. "It crushed me," he said. "I still remember the day they left. My bus driver told me."

Without a local team to follow, Kelley turned away from baseball for many years. But when he returned in the late 1980s, he returned to the Orioles. Players such as Rafael Palmeiro and B.J. Surhoff became favorites for him and his children. He has no problem driving an hour and 45 minutes to Camden Yards.

"There's no way I'd ever lose the Orioles because I've rooted for them for too long," he said. "They were our team."

But as a baseball fan, Kelley asks, why not enjoy the National League and its bevy of stars as well? "I think it would be big for baseball," he said.

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