Nats fans to hit road, kind of, for O's series

June 23, 2006|By JEFF BARKER | JEFF BARKER,SUN REPORTER

As a longtime Orioles fan, Doug McKinney says it always bugged him to see the thousands of Yankees and Red Sox fans who had traveled with their teams to Camden Yards for games. Having all those New York and Boston jerseys in his territory, he says, made him reflexively "sick to my stomach."

So imagine what an odd feeling it will be this weekend when McKinney heads to the ballpark to himself root for the road team - the Washington Nationals.

McKinney, of Silver Spring, is among a large contingent of Washington backers expected this weekend for the first Orioles-Nationals series to be held in Baltimore.

Boosted by the presence of a team from just down the highway - as well as by union and student promotions - the Orioles say they already have sold more than 44,000 tickets for tonight's game, compared with the season average of about 26,000. More than 34,000 have been sold for tomorrow and 26,000 for Sunday, but better-than-average walk-up sales are expected.

McKinney is representative of a new hybrid fan expected to be in the stands this weekend: someone who grew up rooting for the Orioles, but now has a new home team.

"It's hard, really," says McKinney, who owns a sports Web site called FeaturePresentationOnline.com and writes a column for a Nationals fan site. "They [the Orioles] are my AL team; the Nationals are my NL team. It's the case with a lot of the Nationals fans."

For years, McKinney says in an e-mail, "The closest thing to baseball we had was the Orioles. So when the Nationals came to town, would I give up 21 years of being a diehard Orioles fan? Of course not. But with D.C. getting a team, I had a new option."

McKinney is far from alone in his dual loyalties.

"We've got a fair share of former O's fans, and a few folks who root for the O's as their favorite AL team," says Colin Mills, president of the Nats Fan Club.

"This is especially true for some of the younger folks who didn't have a home team growing up, and adopted the O's because they were the nearest team. I figure this phenomenon will fade as the years pass, and finding someone who roots for both the Nats and O's will be as hard as finding someone who roots for both the Yankees and Mets."

The Orioles are happy to sell a ticket to any fan, regardless of their rooting interest.

"I have people who say, `Why do you sell to Yankees fans?'" says Donald Grove Jr., the Orioles' senior director for fan and ticket services. "We don't ask people's religion or politics. We're a business here to make a profit."

It is not unheard of for a professional sports franchise to resist selling to road-team fans.

In 2004, an Atlanta Falcons team official made a candid admission. The Falcons, said ticket sales director Dave Cohen, wanted Atlanta fans sitting in the Georgia Dome seats.

A New Orleans Saints rooter making the road trip that season would be sold a ticket only if there wasn't a Falcons fan who wanted one.

"When people inquire about tickets, we ask them if they are Falcons fans and obviously that is something that is important, and they get priority," Cohen told The Sun at the time.

Grove said it's different in baseball because there are 81 home games, compared with just eight in the NFL. Consequently, baseball clubs don't have the luxury of being as choosy about who gets in.

Away-team fans take a risk in wearing their colors on the road. They might be booed, taunted or even roughed up by the locals in some cities.

"I expect that we'll get roughly the same treatment in Baltimore that the O's fans got in Washington: a fair bit of razzing, more or less depending on the score, but nothing terribly hostile," Mills said.

The Nationals took two out of three games from the Orioles on May 19-21 at Washington's RFK Stadium. It was the first regular-season meeting of the teams since the Nationals arrived from Montreal before last season.

jeff.barker@baltsun.com

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