Show some loyalty

pick a team and stick with it

July 07, 2005|By Barry Petchesky

IF YOU WERE alive the last time the Baltimore-Washington region had two Major League Baseball teams, you're old enough to be president.

But for an entire generation of fans born after the last incarnation of the Senators packed up and left in 1971, the Orioles have been the only option. So how to deal with the novel situation posed by the creation of the Nationals?

My credentials for discussing this are impeccable. I was born and raised in New York City, where family members with differing team loyalties tried to recruit me to their side. When I was old enough to become a serious baseball fan - old enough to sit up and watch TV - I chose the Yankees and haven't looked back.

Giving your unwavering loyalty to a single team is most important. People not from Los Angeles, the Bay Area, Chicago and New York believe that because both teams are local, fans are free to root for both of them. This is not true and, frankly, morally repulsive. As a true fan, you must support only your team.

This doesn't mean that you should ignore the other team that plays an hour's drive away. I often was dragged to Shea Stadium in that other borough of Queens and would cheer just as loudly as anyone in the park - for the visiting team.

But for interleague play, the Orioles and Nats will not be in direct competition. This is of no concern to you. You should flip to the sports section of your paper every day and eagerly check the standings to see if the squad up/down Interstate 95 lost. When one of its players is slumping badly, a tiny part of you should be performing a mental fist pump.

But what if the other team is succeeding? Imagine Mets fans watching the Yankees of the late '90s build a dynasty. There must have been a temptation to at least feel good for the Bronx squad, if not root for it. To their credit, the Mets fans stuck by their guns.

"It's a fluke," I was told year after year.

This will be your attitude when that other team makes the playoffs. You will root for them to be knocked out as quickly as possible because nobody likes a bandwagon jumper. Worse is the fair-weather fan, who gives up on his team when things are going badly and switches the TV or radio dial to the enemy's games.

My second piece of advice to fans of both the Orioles and the Nats is not to treat the Nats as a novelty. First, it demeans you as a fan. Baseball in Montreal was a novelty. But the Nats are a real team in a city where baseball should never have been absent. Baltimoreans should get to know the new guys so as to make fun of them more intelligently. Washingtonians shouldn't buy Nats merchandise just because it's the new fashion statement.

What if you're a kid in Central Maryland, or someone just getting into baseball and looking to pick a team? Ideally, you'll fall in love with one side over some intangible feeling because that's how all great romances begin. But there are things to look for.

Everybody loves an underdog. A team that's going through a rough stretch can be attractive, and many people believe a perennial loser is even easier to root for. Further, there's nothing better than being able to say, "I was a fan back when they were terrible."

Both the O's and the Nats are doing well, so that option may not apply, and it's a little tacky to back a team solely because it wins more than it loses. Maybe there's a player on either team that you identify with because he plays the game the right way or wears the number you wore in Little League.

Please don't pick a favorite player based on his looks. And never develop your loyalty based on the team's colors. If you do, then you don't deserve a team, let alone two.

This is serious business, so choose wisely. This could be for the rest of your life.

Barry Petchesky will be a senior majoring in journalism at Temple University in Philadelphia.

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