O's fans say they won't head south if Expos come

Speculation about team's relocation brings about talk of loyalty to Birds

September 25, 2004|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

Earl Ohman will have to ask himself a serious question if the Montreal Expos end up in Washington: Does he love the Orioles more than he hates the traffic he has to sit through to see them play a game?

It took the government lawyer from Arlington, Va., two hours to get to last night's series opener against Detroit in time for batting practice.

The last time he and his son made the trip north, traffic was so bad they missed the pre-game warm-up altogether.

"He was crushed," said Ohman of his son Jack, a seventh-grader who was busy before last night's game collecting autographs from players, including catcher Javy Lopez, whose jersey he proudly wore.

"To come to an evening game, it's two hours to get here in traffic. That's terrible," said Ohman, 58, who has been an Orioles fan for decades. "But I'm an American League guy. So it'd be a hard call. ... Once you're a fan of a club, it's hard to leave it."

Loyalty, apparently, is still in fashion. With a decision nearing on the fate of the Expos - it seems increasingly likely that their new home will be that city to the south - many baseball fans from Washington and its suburbs seem intent on sticking with the O's.

"[The Expos] can come, but it won't mean anything to me," said a dismissive Ginni Riley, 67, of Kensington in Montgomery County, who attended last night's game with her son-in-law and two grandchildren.

Ask her how long she has been a fan and she'll shoot back: "How long have they been a team?"

Frankly, the thought of baseball in Washington trips her up.

"D.C. is a football town; it's not a baseball town," said Riley, who roots for both the Ravens and the Redskins. "They're not going to be able to fill a stadium for baseball the way they do for football."

It may not help, of course, that the Expos, with a record of 64-89 going into last night's game, are in last place in the National League East. It's not the worst record in baseball, but it's close.

"I saw them on TV the other day. They look like my company playing softball," Matt Kirks, 42, a land surveyor from Bethesda, said from his seat in right field. "In fact, I want to play them."

He and his family still intend to drive to Baltimore no matter what happens with the Expos.

"D.C. doesn't hold a lot of interest to me," said Kirks' wife, Carter, who works for Fannie Mae, the Washington-based home-mortgage lender.

Besides, she said, how would they explain the switch to their children? Through baseball can come some of the lessons of life.

"You teach kids about loyalty. To switch because someone is closer..." she began. "You've got to stick with your allegiance," added her husband.

Matt and Jon Long of Manassas, Va., got into a bit of a friendly father-son disagreement over whether they would still make the trek to Camden Yards.

Matt, a 58-year-old systems engineer, absolutely wouldn't.

"I would," said Jon, 26, a Fairfax County police officer. "I'd rather come here because of the Inner Harbor. Once you're with the team and you've been a fan, you're not going to switch."

Jon Long, who attends about half a dozen Orioles games a year, got a ticket package last night in honor of his father's birthday.

In addition to seventh-row seats behind home plate, they indulged in some of Boog Powell's famous barbecue.

The thought of giving up that still couldn't change his father's mind.

"I don't want to drive to Baltimore," the elder Long insisted. "Baseball's baseball."

For Ohman, who used to attend Washington Senators games, the thrill that his son Jack gets from watching the O's will likely temper his hatred of the gridlock they sit through to get here - and keep him from adopting the Expos as his new home team.

"I wouldn't switch," Jack Ohman said.

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