It tickles me every year when the so-called Battle of the Beltways — Orioles vs. Nationals — takes place because the collective attitude and body language of the D.C. sports fan changes colors as comfortably as a chameleon changes its own.
This week, with the completion of the latest two-game installment, those Nats fans were a chipper, even cocky, lot. So much so that many of them even found their way up the Parkway to Baltimore this time, because, come on ... it’s pretty clear which end of the Parkway has the superior baseball team. And it ain’t Bawlmer, hon. And it won’t be for quite some time.
Quite a contrast from when Buck Showalter had things going at the beginning of this decade and his Orioles teams seemed to come up with some of the most “Why Not?” ways to win against Washington. Didn’t hear much from Nats fans in those days; in fact, didn’t really see many of them at the Beltways games in Baltimore, which was a perfectly lovely change from the days when they were Orioles fans and were there at the most inconvenient times.
But now things are different, and that’s fine. That’s the way life goes for the sports fan. Washington has a top-flight baseball organization, top to bottom, and Nationals fans should be happy and proud — even though in D.C., in life, in sports and (oh, yes) in politics, it is only easy to be happy and proud when it appears as though it’s a sure thing to be happy and proud.
Since the Redskins left the district how many years ago so the frisky old Jack Kent Cooke (great owner, though) could build his monument to himself in Landover/Raljon/Landover, and aside from Capitals fans, D.C. sports fans are as front-running as they come.
Maybe not front-running ... Perhaps front-following, or sticking your toe in the water first, is a better way of putting it, because before the Nationals even played a game when they came from Montreal, I knew plenty of D.C. fans who were afraid to fully commit out of fear this franchise would be a total wreck as were the previous two baseball franchises D.C. lost to fan apathy (count ‘em, two!).
Besides, they had the Orioles just up the BW Parkway then. And since the second version of the Senators bolted for Texas after the 1971 season (that’s right, the second version of the Senators — this time after they came to D.C. as an MLB-created expansion team in ‘61) D.C. had been treated pretty well by the successful Orioles. The O’s, after all, were one of the best organizations in baseball — if not the best — and D.C. fans had a safe haven in knowing they could be Orioles fans and have a pretty good shot at being on the winning side.
And truth be told, D.C. fans were important to the Orioles’ growth as an organization. They made up about 25 percent of the O’s surging attendance base and were fun to have onboard until Camden Yards opened and they soon turned in to the fan who needed to be seen at the place that was the must-see place to be seen.
Just like that, they had become the Wine and Cheese body temperature that helped deaden a once-lively atmosphere. They had become the D.C. Suits, as they were not so affectionately referred to in Bawlmer; and then, when Peter Angelos began his reign of terror as owner in destroying the franchise (see current state of franchise), they disappeared, just as they have since another diminutive owner destroyed the Redskins.
But now all is well and good with the Nationals since Davey Martinez seems to have saved his job as the manager of the team that has never won a postseason series (that’s right, that would be zero) and the D.C. fans are right there with them, for now, which is, of course, the way it should be if that is your hometown team. Although, actually, the hometown for a large percentage of D.C. fans is located nowhere near D.C.
The only current problem, though, in an ever-growing number of problems I have always had with the authenticity of the D.C. sports fan is how many of them have turned on the Orioles, Baltimore and, yes, Camden Yards on social media. And don’t scoff; if it weren’t for social media, nobody would ever hear from the president ... Wait.
Seems to some D.C. social media fans, the Orioles are a joke (won’t argue until The Curse of the Angelos is lifted, but I hear they won on Wednesday), Baltimore is a dump (granted, some tough times right now) and Oriole Park at Camden Yards, one of baseball’s two most perfect ballparks (Pittsburgh being the other one) is now outdated because it is too large for this so-called modern age (6,000 more seats than the albatross on the Anacostia) and now has poor sightlines?
As the great Olson Johnson once said, “Now who can argue with that? I think we’re all indebted to Gabby Johnson ...”
Or, as Eugene McCarthy once said, “Anything said three times in Washington becomes a fact.”
Or, how about winning a postseason series before the end of time and we’ll see then what you have to say?
But they know not what they say. They used to be Orioles fans.
To Dan Snyder.
Mike Burke is sports editor of the Cumberland Times-News. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeCTN.