Since Nats have an owner, parkway rivalry has a home

May 04, 2006|By DAVID STEELE

The Washington Nationals finally have an owner. Let the rivalry begin!

Please? Orioles and Nats? Help us out.

And make it better than the rivalries going on now: biggest nose dive in attendance, and most fan animosity about the ownership situation.

The resolution of the almost-criminally mishandled Nationals power transfer couldn't have come at a better time, with both teams' turnstiles grinding to a halt. Maybe now, everybody can simply focus on making the products on the fields - at Camden Yards and RFK - better. Maybe now, the owners in question can sink their attention, effort and resources into said improvements.

One owner, at least it appears, has seemed way too preoccupied for far too long with the fortunes of the other franchise, thus alienating the fans of his own team.

The other franchise, of course, didn't even have an owner to do that much.

If we all need a reason, in Year 15 at Camden Yards and in Year 2 at RFK, attendance has plummeted, that one isn't bad. Nineteen months of Major League Baseball foot-dragging definitely put one team's normal functions on hold and seems to have affected those of another.

Are the Nationals going to sink the Orioles? Is Peter Angelos going to fight, twist, flex and pull strings enough to make sure that doesn't happen? Eventually the question became: Will we ever find out? Because nothing about the viability of the two franchises can be judged based on what has happened so far.

That includes the "crowds," for lack of a better term. Toronto's two-game visit to Camden Yards this week barely cracked 30,000 combined. Going into last night, the Nats had fallen short of 25,000 fans in five straight home games, including their two smallest crowds ever at just over 19,000.

Remember that Parkway Series fantasy a year ago? Teams in or around first place, 40,000-plus crowds in both parks. The instability and chaos blew a big hole in that dream, silly as it was.

There are almost too many reasons to count for the Orioles' sinking numbers, this year and the past several. The Nats, though, can point to little else besides the ownership wait. It's too hard to buy into a team, even a new one, that's in limbo, paralyzed in player transactions, in promotions and marketing, in televising games, in simply putting down roots.

It's easy to forget one of the biggest reasons you couldn't get a ticket to Camden Yards, and why Angelos was hailed as a hero, for so many years: Proof was finally here that the Orioles were in Baltimore to stay.

Now that D.C. is getting that signal from the Nationals, the interrupted honeymoon likely will begin again. The team, banged-up and buried in the standings, might even get a jump-start.

All that's left then is for the romance to get restarted at this end of the parkway. Every day, more and more is being cleared off Angelos' agenda. MLB president Bob DuPuy even suggested yesterday that the aggravating TV deal might get smoothed out, that all the parties concerned (including the new Nats owners) could get together to talk soon.

Maybe that means Angelos can check this item off his PDA: Get the Orioles winning again, and get the fans to love them again, by any means necessary.

Most of all, though, take the pieces of what should be a healthy, hate-driven rivalry and put them together, for real.

Because it's almost a sure thing that the soon-to-be Nationals owners - Ted Lerner, his son Mark and their investors - are going to want to stir it up. Remember, the Lerners tried to buy the Orioles once, have been trying to get a team to Washington almost as far back as the last team had left in the 1970s, and are part of the generation of disenfranchised fans forced to choose to support the Orioles the past three decades.

Now, money finally will be spent to spread the Nationals gospel, and it's surely going to be spent very close to this vicinity, to pick off strays that didn't make their decision back in September 2004, when baseball set all of this in motion.

The battle is joined, and Angelos has no choice but to engage. The competition down the road, now that it has been defined, and the empty seats screaming at him in his own park, pretty much demand that he puts up his dukes, and whatever else he needs to put up. Fans in both cities, and in the areas in between, want to care again.

The weekend after next, the Orioles and Nationals finally meet in a game that counts. Time's a-wastin'; actually, time's been-wastin'. No more excuses. Serve the Hater-ade, print up the Orioles (Stink) and Nats (Stink) T-shirts, and get this thing started.

david.steele@baltsun.com

Read David Steele's blog at baltimoresun.com/steeleblog

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