D.C. stadium frees Orioles to return focus to Baltimore

April 08, 2008|By George Weigel

Washington has freed the Birds.

I say that as a native Baltimorean who's spent nearly a quarter-century toiling in the Potomac fever swamps. The reason why has to do with the opening of Nationals Park in D.C. - an event treated by my neighbors as analogous to the debut of a new and improved Chartres Cathedral.

So, how is this a liberation for Baltimore?

First of all, Nationals Park should free Baltimoreans from their perennial inferiority complex. The new D.C. facility is simply not in the same league - either figuratively or literally - with Camden Yards. Yes, the sight lines at the new ballpark are terrific. But nothing else is. Once you're inside, the park's connection to the city simply disappears; sitting just above the Nats' bullpen on opening night, I could just as well have been in Reston, Hagerstown, or Omaha, judging from what I could see.

Camden Yards is far better integrated into the cityscape, far more redolent of real baseball - as distinguished from the "entertainment experience" - and far more intimate (how Nationals Park has 7,000 fewer seats and manages to feel much bigger is a mystery).

Then there is the liberation of the Orioles as a franchise. Since the expansion Senators bolted to the interstate mixing bowl of Arlington, Texas, in 1971, the Orioles have tried to be a "regional franchise" serving two metropolitan areas. This had the benefit of drawing considerable numbers of Washingtonians to a real city, but it depleted the Orioles' identity-capital.

The downside was neatly captured in an e-mail I recently received from a fierce Baltimorean, who deplored the notion of the Orioles as a "regional" entity: "A `region' to me is the left side of the infield that Aparicio and Brooks and Belanger and Cal protected with the finest leatherwork ever put on display. What a privilege it was to have that as our own."

Amen. With the Washington market monkey off their backs, the Baltimore Orioles can now reclaim that pride of ownership. So put "Baltimore" back on the road jerseys (in black, please; orange-on-grey is really tacky). Put "Baltimore" back in the logo and the rest of the corporate branding. Encourage the players to live in the city (Aubrey Huff, call your real estate agent). Beg, borrow, or steal Jon Miller - the best play-by-play man ever - from the Giants and bring him back where he belongs. Give Brooks Robinson a place in the organization.

If the Golden Age of the modern Orioles was 1960-1971, the Silver Age quickly followed, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, culminating in the 1983 World Series win. No one put the Silver Age Orioles on the national media radar screen like Thomas Boswell of - forgive me - The Washington Post. But even the ultra-Washingtonian Mr. Boswell recognized that what made the Orioles great, not just as a baseball team but as an exemplar of hard-working excellence, was their rootedness in the sometimes hardscrabble life of Baltimore and their distance from the fleshpots of Capitol Hill and K Street.

That rootedness can be reclaimed, now that the siren song of Washington marketing and "regionalism" has, necessarily, abated. With it, one hopes, has also gone the temptation to play roulette in the free agent market, with potentially unhappy results like Albert Belle, the ultimate un-Oriole, whose signing was made possible in part by all that D.C. money flowing into the Patapsco basin.

So let the Baltimore Orioles rebuild from the inside out, just as Lee MacPhail and Harry Dalton did in the 1950s and 1960s. That's what the Nats are doing. How sweet it would be to beat them in the 2012 World Series, played at either end of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway.

George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, the author, most recently, of "Faith, Reason, and the War Against Jihadism," and an Orioles fan since 1957. His e-mail is gsweigel@aol.com.

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