With prospect of D.C. team, what city do you call home?

Baseball: If Washington gets the Expos, the resulting rivalry could cause conflict among neighbors -- and even within oneself.

September 26, 2004|By Ellen Gamerman and Tom Dunkel | Ellen Gamerman and Tom Dunkel,SUN STAFF

We all face choices - paper or plastic, Democrat or Republican, love or money - but the options seem particularly endless in a state split by two dueling identities.

So, Marylanders, what's it going to be:

Ravens or Redskins?

410 or 301?

Baltimorean or Washingtonian?

As demonstrated by the past week's flurry of hand-wringing as the nation's capital came closer to acquiring a Major League Baseball team, there are choices to be made. What are the loyalties of the region? Will the fans abandon the Baltimore Orioles for the Montreal Expos if they're transplanted to D.C.? When given the option, what team would the region pick?

To know where local fans would end up, it helps to know what city they call home. That's where things get sticky. People in the vast stretches of suburbia, it seems, can't decide.

If there's a dividing line between Baltimore and Washington, it's drawn in invisible ink. One could argue that it runs through Columbia, a place practically invented for couples who head to work in opposite directions on Interstate 95. Or maybe it passes through Odenton, where the MARC train pulls up and the capital's grip seems to loosen. To Baltimore enthusiasts eager to limit Washington's influence, the boundary actually hovers closer to the district, say 20 miles outside the city in a place like Laurel.

To others, the border is marked by regional stereotypes. Some say it's economic, cultural or social.

Everyone seems to have a theory. Well, maybe everyone but the people in the suburbs, particularly those in Howard and Anne Arundel counties. When asked if they're Washingtonians or Baltimoreans, they freeze.

"I'm neither," said Gregory Brown, 42, a Columbia resident who works in the capital as a computer specialist at the Federal Trade Commission. "I'd say I'm from Maryland."

Nowhere is the confusion more apparent than with sports loyalties. Consider Brown's allegiances: He grew up in Rockville and followed the Senators before the baseball team left the capital. When he moved north, he requested a 301 area code so he could feel more attached to relatives around Washington (and have lower phone bills), but he took to the Orioles with gusto. Like many of his neighbors, he's a Redskins fan, but he still gets mad when he talks about the Colts leaving Baltimore.

Now comes the prospect of baseball in Washington, a possibility Brown embraces.

"I'd certainly come to see a National League team," he said, heading toward Capitol Hill after stepping off the morning commuter train. "It'd be a cool thing to do."

Every place has its diehards, but identity gets tougher to define when you're living somewhere between two cities.

"I think it depends on where you work," said Anthony Rampulla, 56, who has lived in Columbia since 1972 and works in the insurance business in Baltimore. Rampulla is more than an Orioles fan. "I'm a Baltimore person."

If the District of Columbia lands a baseball team, he'd be tempted to go to some games, he said, but he can take or leave Washington. Mostly he leaves it. The traffic. The blocked streets and security checkpoints. The roundabouts.

"I don't go into D.C.," Rampulla said. "I get lost too much."

How residents define the region is one thing; how the federal government does is another.

For the purposes of the census and other government studies, Washington and Baltimore are one. In 1992, the Office of Management and Budget merged the cities into the Washington-Baltimore Consolidated Metropolitan Statistical Area.

Some Baltimoreans were none too happy about the move, particularly with their city taking second billing in the title. But a decade later, when the OMB reviewed its decision, the advantage of the city's being partnered with Washington became clear: As a consolidated area, Washington-Baltimore was the nation's fourth-largest metropolitan area, after New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. If Baltimore had been split into its own metro area, it would have dropped to 18th or 19th.

When viewed from a marketing perspective, Baltimore alone tends to lose rank. For the purposes of the Nielsen TV ratings, Washington (which includes Hagerstown) is considered the nation's eighth-largest market, while Baltimore is several tiers down at 23rd.

The 2000 census put the Washington-Baltimore population at 7.36 million, up more than 9 percent from 1990. Most of the population growth was in the Washington suburbs - the district itself, like Baltimore, lost residents.

The cities tend to join forces when there's a larger purpose at stake: After separately seeking to host the 2012 Summer Olympics, for example, Baltimore and Washington united and submitted a single bid. (It was rejected.)

To many people, though, 35 miles is the least of what separates the two cities.

Barb Langridge grew up outside Washington, but she works at Howard County's central library, lives in Ellicott City and has stopped feeling an allegiance to the capital.

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