The Baltimore Orioles have embraced the Washington Capitals and their run to the NHL’s Stanley Cup Finals. And in reality, Baltimore is almost ground zero for Capitals fandom. There’s a huge fan base in Charm City, and there always has been. I certainly grew up a Caps fan myself, so for me these are certainly exciting times.
However I look at the grousing going on among Orioles fans right now, much of it justified based on the record. And I’m reminded of the early days of the Washington Capitals. As most folks know, they played their games in Landover, MD’s Capital Centre until the late 1990’s. And I think that’s partially why Baltimore’s always embraced the team. First off they’re the closest NHL franchise. However if you were in downtown Baltimore it was probably easier for you to get to a Caps’ home game than it would have been from Northern Virginia.
But some of those early Caps teams were dreadful. When I was a kid in the 1980’s the games were on Home Team Sports, which also carried the Orioles. My parents refused to pay the up charge that was required to get HTS, as it wasn’t considered basic cable at the time. So I rarely got to see a Capitals’ home game on television (the road games were carried on local over-the-air stations). I spent many winter nights laying in bed listening to Ron Weber call games on the radio.
And as I alluded above, Weber called A LOT of bad hockey in the first few years. Really up until the late 1980’s. But keep in mind that the franchise still had a fledgling fan base at that time. Whereas I followed baseball, football, and basketball because older men (Dad, uncles, etc) played those sports in my family, I never really had a background with ice hockey. But I enjoyed the games and I enjoyed following the Capitals – and I kind of picked it up on my own (by reading a few books on the history of the sport, and some of the greats such as Bobby Orr).
While they had a fledgling fan base at that time, the fans were also loyal. The Caps routinely played in front of small Capital Centre crowds, but the fans that came were loud and proud. And as time went on the fan base grew. And anyone who’s seen the shots of the fans outside the arena nowadays knows that it’s now huge.
So I’ve covered a lot of real estate to get to this point. But here it is; could that have happened in the exact same manner now as it did then? The Capitals came to town as an expansion team in 1974. It took them a long while before they even thought about reaching respectability. Yet the fans were loyal and never really complained. They were just happy to have a team.
The Orioles of today seem to have more complainers than ever before. Everything they do is under the microscope, and if you believe some fans is just flat out wrong. Obviously with the record they have it’s hard to suggest people should cut them a break. However if this was the spring of 2014 and they were streaking towards the AL East title, would anyone be complaining that they were considering the act of signing Hanley Ramirez?
I would submit that social media has played a huge role in this. And it’s an industry-wide thing in regards to sports. Back in the ’70’s and ’80’s nobody had an outlet such as Twitter or Facebook to voice their opinions about the team – or about anything. Heck if you had a cable channel that cost an extra fee that you didn’t feel like paying and thus you couldn’t see your favorite team’s games, you’d be screaming on social media. Back then the youthful version of me just found another way – the radio.
I suppose the point is that things look a lot more bleak overall for a team like the Orioles with one million people on various social media sites thinking they know better. And thinking that their views and opinions are all correct. More correct than what the team thinks, in fact. So if the Capitals had been a contemporary expansion team and had started out their first decade as they did back then, people would have been up in arms. Especially now, when the Caps’ opponent in the Stanley Cup Finals is a Vegas team in it’s fist year of existence.