Camden: stop on D.C. line

Fans: Some yesterday were just biding time until their new team, the Nationals, plays at home.

April 05, 2005|By Stephanie Desmon and Michael Hoffman | Stephanie Desmon and Michael Hoffman,SUN STAFF

Way up in Section 372 of Oriole Park, in that no-man's land beyond the left-field foul pole, sat a man with truly split loyalties.

On the outside, to brace against the brisk wind of yesterday's Opening Day, federal worker Bill Spencer wore a dark blue hooded sweat shirt emblazoned with the logo of his new crush: the Washington Nationals, the newest baseball team and the one closest to his Clifton, Va., home.

But underneath, closest to his heart, he had the trusty bright orange he has worn for so many summers in the stands at game after Orioles game. "It's true," he said, "I love the Orioles. They're my first love. I just don't love what's happened to the team. ... It's like the business got in the way of the sport."

Still, he and his buddy John Byrne, who spent many Sundays on the highway to see games at Camden Yards over the years, are sharing season tickets this year - to the Nationals.

"In a way, I'm moving on," said Byrne, who works for a trade association in D.C. "I'll still watch [Orioles] games. Whether I'll come up or not, I don't know. I'm going to pay attention to the National League now" and their newest team.

A new baseball team moving into what has for decades been Orioles territory is leading to the kinds of crises only true sports fans can have: whether to stick with the team you've cheered through the highs of World Series victories and Cal Ripken's streak and, of course, the lows, or to try a new one on for size.

It could equate to fewer fans and less revenue for the Baltimore franchise as a new team moves about 40 miles away, giving options people haven't had for 34 years. It's also a chance for some to show they won't be taken for granted.

"The traffic on the Beltway has just gotten too bad," said Pat Donahue, who made the trip from Fairfax County, Va., but won't be keeping it up. "It took me 2 hours and 45 minutes to get home from one game last year."

For some, though, a switch in allegiance is personal. They look at some of the decisions made in recent years by Orioles owner Peter Angelos and say that is why they won't venture north for baseball anymore.

"We were all fans before Angelos," said Mike Greaney, one of a group of four from Washington who have come to Orioles Opening Day together for 27 years. They say this could be their last.

"Ever since he took over the team, he has single-handedly destroyed the franchise," Greaney said.

Bob Fitzpatrick, a Washington lawyer, figures he can have it both ways. He has had Orioles season tickets for 30 years - and there he sat with his 5 1/2 -year-old daughter, Leilani, behind home plate yesterday. Now, he also has season tickets to "the other team," as he called them. He figures when one team's home, the other one's often away.

"Theoretically, I could spend April until October doing nothing but watching baseball," he said. Fitzpatrick, 63, said he sees nothing wrong with rooting for both teams - especially because the lifelong Washington resident has been waiting for a team since the Senators skipped town after the 1971 season.

"I don't see them in the World Series against one another probably in my lifetime," he said. "I don't think it's going to happen."

There were a few brave folks in Nationals gear walking through the concourse yesterday - a handful of hats with the cursive "W," even fewer T-shirts emblazoned with the team name - but for every one of those, there were hundreds decked out in Orioles orange.

"Congratulations on your new team," one sincere guy in an Orioles jersey said to R.J. Johnson and Ryan Hanley, two Washingtonians who played baseball together at the University of Rochester. They wore matching Nationals T-shirts - both bearing the last name of Nats outfielder Brad Wilkerson and his No. 7. A lot of the things they heard from passers-by is unprintable. "Go back to D.C.," was one of the nicer comments.

Sharon Van Culin, a nurse from Rising Sun, wore her allegiance all over: An orange Orioles jersey crowded with baseball pins from Opening Days past, a set of baseball-shaped Mardi Gras beads, an orange lei. There will be some fans who leave the Orioles for the Nationals, but if they do, she scoffed, "they're not really die-hard fans."

Mike Bosworth is - and will always be - one of those die-hards. "If you live here, you root for the Orioles," the Harford County man said simply. "Just like you don't like the Redskins."

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