May 19, 2006

Home Sweet Homestand

With a thoroughly crappy roadtrip gone but not forgotten, the Nats return to RFK for their longest homestand of the season so far. The upcoming ten-gamer is a whopping four days longer than the team has been home for any stretch to date. I'm convinced that contributes in some small way to the ticket sale malaise hovering over the team. For example, take this typical (but entirely fictional) exchange:

"Say Fred, did you hear the Nats are home this week?"
"Gee Bob, maybe we should catch a game!"
"Oops nevermind Fred, looks like they're gone again, on the road for two weeks."
"Screw it Bob, let's just get coke and hookers this weekend instead."

So not only do short homestands drive away fans, they contribute to the decline in community morals. Conservative values voters: Call your congressman and demand longer homestands! The virtue of the Republic hangs in the balance. But I digress...

This weekend marks the inaugural B-W Battle between the Nats and the Orioles. Now, baseball writers from the once distinguished Thomas J. Boswell to the thoroughly undistinguished beat writer have opined that you cannot have a genuine rivalry until both teams are competitive. To which I say "Horses**t!"

When the Green Bay Packers play the Minnesota Vikings, you think anybody cares about the records? When the Red Wings and Blues throw down, do the standings even matter? College sports are built on the back of geographic and thematic rivalries: Georgia-Florida, Army-Navy, USC-UCLA, Notre Dame-everybody. As a lifelong Redskins fan I can vouch for the fact that even the worst season is redeemed by a victory of the Cowboys. Likewise, a Super Bowl season can still be tarnished by a defeat at the hands of Dallas.

I understand that in the era of free agency players don't identify with their cities like they once did. Alfonso Soriano was in Texas last year, why should he carry any antipathy towards the Orioles? Baltimore's Kevin Millar was an integral piece of the Red Sox puzzle until this season, logically he should dislike the Orioles more than the Nats. But rivalries aren't really for the players any more, with a few notable exceptions (Reggie Miller vs The City of New York springs to mind.) These days rivalries are fueled, for better or worse, by the fans.

And Nats fans have plenty of reasons to dislike the Orioles, starting at the top. Peter Angelos delayed the relocation of our team, prevented Nats games from being universally broadcast, and utterly dismissed our credentials as baseball fans. That by itself is reason enough to boo his team. But for baseball fans, there's an even more compelling storyline. Angelos has presided over the methodical destruction of one of the great franchises in baseball. He didn't start the process, but he's doing his best to finish it.

Not so long ago the Orioles were a model organization. The "Oriole Way" was the blueprint for player development. Oriole teams were a perfect mirror of their hard-working, fun-loving , blue collar city. But through a series of mind-bogglingly bad personnel moves (turns out the only thing worse than a GM who's never met a free agent he didn't like is an owner who's never met one he did) and PR disasters: Albert Belle, Mike Mussina, Sammy Sosa, Miguel Tejada... Angelos has turned his team into a fan-repellent perennial also-ran. And if that's not boo-worthy, I don't know what is.

So I hope to see lots of red, white and blue out at the ballpark this weekend. Dave, Watson and I have ambitiously committed to all three games (depending on the severity of our hangovers.) Feel free to stop by Section 313 and say "Hi!" We'll even save you some peanuts.

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