D.C. parks one

Any way pie is sliced, there's enough for all

Baseball Returns To Washington

September 30, 2004|By David Steele

WASHINGTON - Serving as yell leader at the biggest baseball pep rally in Washington history, former Senators PA announcer Charlie Brotman kicked things off at the City Museum yesterday by shouting, "Are there any baseball fans out there?"

The crowd screamed its affirmation, but of course, it was a rhetorical question. Undoubtedly, many, if not most, of the fans packed into the museum atrium were such big fans that for two decades they crept up North Charles and weaved through Waverly to Memorial Stadium for the privilege of rooting on the team that represented a city they otherwise couldn't be bothered with.

Now, those fans have options besides Baltimore. Some have that option for the first time in their lives. What now, for the Washington expatriates and for those hungry-for-something non-Orioles after all these years?

Are there enough fans around here to go around?

As of about 4 p.m. yesterday, the latter question is moot. But it's far from the last time it will be asked. D.C. and Major League Baseball are convinced they have the answer, and nothing - not the circumstances here or anywhere else - will change its "yes" into "no."

This is a rivalry, not a threat, D.C. and baseball insist. D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams even made time in his exuberant remarks yesterday to note that one of the congratulatory messages he received was from his Baltimore counterpart, Martin O'Malley. Baltimore fans and, notably, its uninterested city council have sent similar messages.

Wanting and embracing a rivalry is a fine thing. Surviving one, though, is no sure thing.

This becomes baseball's fifth two-team market. No two are the same, and none of the current ones can really predict the success of this one. Peter Angelos has offered his own version of how it will turn out: In his eyes, it's Armageddon.

He might be the only one who feels that way.

Actually, he's one of two. As mentioned previously, the Giants' Peter Magowan is claiming similar territorial rights to protect him against a possible move by the Athletics - who, truth be told, he'd rather not even have in Oakland, much less the more lucrative and accessible Santa Clara County south of San Francisco.

Indications are that he and Angelos will be the only owners voting against the Expos' move to D.C. (Angelos, while being satisfied by baseball on his claims, likely would vote no out of principle, knowing the move will be approved by a landslide, anyway.)

Nevertheless, some observers see more differences than similarities between the San Francisco-Oakland situation and this one. The biggest differences are proximity. The distance between the Bay Area cities is half as much as here, and they're part of the exact same media market; they don't have separate TV and radio stations as they do here.

"Separate metropolitan areas, separate economically," was one of the common refrains yesterday. The other was that the landscape of the game and the cities have changed enormously since the Senators left the market alone to the Orioles after the 1971 season.

Two people who could phrase the difference in personal terms happened to be on stage at the museum yesterday: city councilman Vincent Orange, an Oakland native, and city administrator Robert Bobb, who until last year was city manager of Oakland and deeply engaged in trying to get the A's a downtown stadium and keeping them in town.

Orange told a gleeful tale of growing up a huge Giants fan - and of switching allegiances to Reggie Jackson and Catfish Hunter as soon as the A's arrived in the late '60s. "I loved [Willie] Mays," he said, "but now I had my own team."

Thirty-plus years later, both the Giants and A's enter the final weekend in the thick of a playoff race (again) and drawing well. The Giants draw far better - but that largely is thanks to a new ballpark, without which they might have been the ones to leave town a decade ago. The A's are in the same near-obsolete building they were when Orange worked as a vendor in his youth. They're scrapping to get a new ballpark, in Oakland or elsewhere.

That's not a problem either Baltimore or D.C. will face.

"One year not long ago," Bobb recalled, "the A's drew [only] 1.6 million, and everyone was all in a huff. But we weren't winning. Then we started winning. It's all about winning - winning and marketing."

What Angelos faces can't compare to what owners in New York, Chicago, L.A. and San Francisco do. None of them has had a city to himself for three decades; each has had to share. From that perspective, you can see his point: money is being taken out of his pocket.

The D.C. people see big crowds in both cities and lots of traffic in between. They envision money from every corner of the metropolitan area (or, more accurately, areas) flowing into their pockets and Angelos', more than enough to make them all, as well as everyone else in baseball, satisfied.

Their point is better.

To answer the original question: Yes, there are a lot of baseball fans out there.

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