O's-Nats 'rivalry' has gone south

April 13, 2009|By DAVID STEELE | DAVID STEELE,david.steele@baltsun.com

There's hardly any reason to complain about the Orioles one week into the season, and there will be one fewer reason than usual for the coming week. Finally, by popular demand (to put it very mildly), the team will wear the name of your city across its chest on the road, starting Monday night in Texas.

One slight problem with a very happy start to this season: The regional rivalry that held so much promise five years ago is going nowhere, fast. The Washington Nationals are not holding up their end of the bargain.

When they showed up in town from Montreal for the 2005 season, it seemed, even in their haphazard state, taking a big bite out of the fan base and market of the Orioles would be just a matter of time. The alienated baseball faithful were sure to abandon the still-drifting O's and flee south to the Nats, their new stadium, cool logo and brighter future.

Now? Hours before the Orioles take the field with "Baltimore" on their jerseys, the Nationals play their second opener in Nationals Park, days after the team president spoke on two radio stations in Philadelphia and all but offered round-trip limo service to Phillies fans to attend the game.

Stan Kasten has been raked over the coals on D.C. radio and in the papers for inviting a rival city to take over its stadium on Opening Day. But the cruel truth is that he had no choice - either fill the seats with out-of-town fans or see them go empty as hometown fans, horrified by last season's 102 losses and this spring's front office turmoil (an acting general manager after the previous GM got entangled in a scandal involving signing Latin American prospects), threaten to stay away in droves once again.

The Nationals come home with the major leagues' worst record and possibly facing a hostile crowd - their own fans as well as the visitors'.

Not that any of this would give Orioles fans license to smirk, except that in their own home opener, they managed to stave off almost the same threat in Camden Yards from New York Yankees fans, for one of the few times in the past decade. On top of that, they took two of three from New York, then took the first two from the defending American League champion Tampa Bay Rays.

True, attendance took its usual post-opener, non-Yankees-and-Red Sox plunge. But just as true, there is not a viable baseball alternative nearby pulling fans away. Almost without warning, the Orioles reversed course in mid-loyalty drain. They have the sharp front office and the resulting organization-wide improvement. They have the hot prospect their fans can't wait to see in Matt Wieters (as a bonus, he has proper ID). They have more reason to hope for the immediate future and have even survived one week of the season without their starting rotation imploding.

Know what they also have? Sit down and swallow your orange juice for this one. The Orioles also have the more stable, sensible, focused ownership. There's very little to pick at Peter Angelos about the past two years, and certainly not Monday night, with the road jerseys. In Washington, meanwhile, the Lerner family is fighting the city over ... paying the rent?

For now, the Orioles appear to be on the right track. The Nationals need to catch up. At this rate, they might need to take the city's name off the road jerseys soon - by popular demand.

Listen to David Steele on Mondays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. and Thursdays at 9:30 a.m. on Fox Sports 1370 AM.

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