Baltimore's return

editorial notebook

November 15, 2008|By Peter Jensen

The big news this week in Orioles Nation was the unveiling of the name Baltimore splashed across the chest of the team's road jersey. This was considered quite a gesture. The hometown identity has been missing for 35 years in what originated as an effort to broaden the franchise's fan base to the south after the Washington Senators left town to become the Texas Rangers.

So how much better about the team does this make us feel?

One school of thought is that somebody should sue Orioles owner Peter "The Asbestos King" Angelos. Unless he's paying the city for the right to use the name, Baltimore will no doubt suffer considerable damages from any close association.

Only Seattle had a worse record in the American League this past season, and the team hasn't had a winning season since the invention of the DVD player. At least HBO's The Wire made the town look like it had competent denizens (vicious drug dealers, perhaps, but successful). And, of course, it's always pleasant to imagine suing the living daylights out of a billionaire litigator.

We are inclined to be kinder. Despite their record, the Orioles seem to be on a meandering road to respectability, something that's not often been the case in the franchise's recent, woeful years. They have young talent, steady leadership and now a retro road jersey that harkens back to the days of glory.

But where does that leave those who grew up in Washington, D.C., or its suburbs over the last three decades rooting for the Orioles? Should they feel slighted? Speaking for them (the author confesses his roots, begs forgiveness), here's the likely reaction: ho, hum.

There's a reason why Nationals games have awful cable TV ratings. And it's not just a won-loss record so miserable it makes the O's look like contenders. A lot of people in the D.C. sphere of influence still harbor warm feelings for the Orioles.

Fanship is a funny thing. Once a team is embraced in youth, it's difficult to let go even in adulthood. The Orioles were always Baltimore's team, but that doesn't make Baltimoreans their only fans. Nor, incidentally, does it make Baltimoreans the only fans of Baltimore.

For someone from D.C., a city of transiency and artifice, attending an Orioles game was always a magical experience, from the days of Memorial Stadium and cold Natty Boh to the Yard and Boog's barbecue. The O's may have beaten up on the Senators in their day but so did the rest of the league. No hard feelings. Love the team, the city, the whole package.

No doubt this will change over time. The Nats will eventually start winning. Kids will grow up following their exploits. The distance from Rockville to Eutaw Street will grow.

Putting Baltimore on the players' chests won't change this. It won't add wins, lower ticket prices or cause millionaire players to spend their off-seasons here. It probably won't even help attendance.

If some fans of the team feel some sort of redemption from this, good for them. They are the Baltimore Orioles and always have been. Just please keep in mind that Orioles Nation extends far beyond the banks of the Patapsco River.

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