Orioles beat Nationals in World Series poll

Md. fans are divided along geographic lines

The Sun Poll

April 19, 2005|By Bill Ordine | Bill Ordine,SUN STAFF

What would have appeared to be a ludicrous question a few weeks ago seemed a little less silly yesterday with both the Orioles and the Washington Nationals hovering at the top of their respective divisions.

If the two teams were to meet in the World Series, who would you root for?

This litmus test of statewide fan loyalty, posed in a recent Sun poll, showed that although the battle for the hearts - and ultimately, the wallets - of Maryland baseball fans is still in the early innings, the Orioles hold an imposing lead over the Nationals.

Nearly 75 percent of those who had an opinion said they would be wearing orange and black should the two clubs vie for the world championship; just over 23 percent would back the newly arrived Nationals, and 2 percent said they would cheer for both clubs.

And that was before the Orioles' weekend sweep of the New York Yankees.

"When you get to the big game, you have to show your loyalties and choose sides," said Keith Haller, president of Potomac Survey Research, which conducted the poll.

Although 1,000 people were surveyed in the poll that mostly focused on state politics, 850 respondents voiced an opinion about baseball while the remaining said they either were not fans or undecided, or refused to answer. The poll has a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.

Not surprisingly, team attachments split along geographic lines. In the city and Baltimore County, of 215 fans who had an opinion, only four said they would support the Nationals in a championship matchup. Meanwhile, in the Washington suburbs, 61 percent of Montgomery County fans and 57 percent in Prince George's said they would root for the Nats to win the Series.

Where residents live in the sphere of influence of both cities - such as Howard and Anne Arundel counties - the Orioles dominated fan loyalty, drawing the support of 90 percent of those with a preference.

Officials with both teams were reluctant to draw inferences from the survey.

"We along with others are learning what the impact is of having two teams within 35 miles of each other," Orioles Chief Operating Officer Joe Foss said in a statement. "But it would be premature to offer opinions or conclusions at this early stage."

Chartese Berry, a spokeswoman for the Nationals, said her team is simply happy to sell a ticket to whoever wants to buy one.

"It's been perceived that there's some kind of rivalry or animosity between the baseball teams but ... we're not going after Orioles fans," Berry said. "We want to be nice neighbors."

Stephen McDaniel, a University of Maryland associate professor who teaches classes on sports marketing and media, said it's too early to determine whether the Nationals' popularity in the Washington suburbs will be lasting.

"When you think about the uncharacteristic strong start both these teams have had - and I hate to be a naysayer, but it's hard to imagine both of them finishing as strong as they started - there's something of a bandwagon effect going on in Washington," McDaniel said.

While the Nationals have the bloom of newness, he said, there are still many fans in the Washington area whose introduction to baseball was at Memorial Stadium or Camden Yards.

"That's a pretty emotional connection when you can think back to when Dad and Mom or your grandparents took you to your first baseball game," McDaniel said.

Tradition is why Robert Holcomb of Columbia said he would root for the Orioles in a Series showdown with Washington. Holcomb, a 50-year-old salesman, moved to Baltimore in 1979, the year the Orioles won the pennant but lost to Pittsburgh in the World Series.

"I remember all those comebacks, late at night, players like [John] Lowenstein and [Gary] Roenicke. It was a positive, memorable experience," McDaniel said. "The Nationals are new and they're building their history but they're not there yet."

The handful of city fans who said they would root for the Nationals were special cases, people who had former ties to the National League, such as Thelma Ashford, who turns 87 in a couple of weeks.

"In my time, Jackie Robinson played for the Dodgers and I'm African-American," said Ashford, who grew up in Philadelphia. "My aunt was a Dodgers fan and I was for the Giants so we had our own feud but still, I'm for the National League because that's where Jackie Robinson played."

Robert Winterbottom, a 69-year-old medical waste incinerator worker from Laurel, could go either way. Although he's in Prince George's County, he's just a long fly ball from Oriole strongholds in Howard and Anne Arundel counties. At the moment, his World Series loyalties would be with the Nationals.

"Peter Angelos isn't one of my favorites," said Winterbottom of the Orioles' owner. "I think he does things that don't help the team. The Orioles are good right now in spite of the owner."

Daryl Clark of Silver Spring has purer motives for being a Nationals supporter. He was 13 years old and a diehard Senators fan when that team moved to become the Texas Rangers in 1972.

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