The Baltimore Orioles open up a ten-game road swing tonight. Given their record at home and on the road, that’s not really a bad thing. But are the truly on the road? In Washington DC?
Yes folks, they are. When the O’s head to DC to play the Washington Nationals they do stay in a hotel as they would for any other road series, they wear the gray uniforms, and they bat first in each inning. They sit in Nationals Park’s third base side visitors’ dugout, and utilize the visitors’ bullpen in left field. They’re as “on the road” as on the road can mean.
However, the fact remains that Baltimore and Washington are close in proximity. As a crow flies we’re talking 40 miles. The fan bases are overlapped, and everyone knows or is related to someone who roots for the other team. In my case, my Dad’s side of the family (which is where I got my indoctrination into baseball) are all O’s fans. My Mom’s side of the family (despite having roots in Fells Point after they arrived from Italy) are mostly Nats fans – with a few O’s fans also.
Originally however, they were Washington Senators fans, of course. In fact, my late grandfather was a catcher who played semi-pro baseball in the Senators’ system. So despite some of the political differences between the franchises, the fans are largely friendly. You’ll see groups of friends and relatives split down the middle at Nationals Park this weekend.
And I think that’s something that’s really unique to the mid-Atlantic region. Obviously some regional rivalries are within the same city – New York, Chicago, and even the San Francisco Bay Area teams (to a lesser degree). So there are rivals who are geographically closer than these two teams. But make no mistake that Yankees and Mets fans would never be caught dead together.
Other situations are too far for fans to really “travel.” The Florida and Texas teams, for instance. In this case most of you reading this know Nats fans. Like my family maybe they’re your relatives, or maybe you work with them. But you know them, and you have intelligent conversations with them everyday – good baseball conversations. And many of you will be hosted by them in groups at Nationals Park this weekend. Conversely, many of you will host your Nats fan friends at Camden Yards in July.
And perhaps this rivalry more than any other in baseball, it’s truly about the fans. We’re far enough away to be different, but close enough to be family. Sure fans will have separate rooting interests this weekend. But it all ends in good fun. It all ends with everyone at a bar table sharing nachos and pitchers of beer – COVID withstanding.
And on that note, my hope is that any Orioles fans coming down for a game or for the whole weekend find some time to enjoy DC. Meaning the monuments (those which are open, at least), as well as aspects of Nationals Park. It does have a decent beer selection – for those who are into such things! Whereas Camden Yards seems to sell a lot of Flying Dog (out of Frederick), Nationals Park sells a heavy amount of Devil’s Backbone (out of Virginia). There are also lots of local food items such as Ben’s Chili Bowl among other food options.
All in all, it should be a fun weekend for fans of both teams. And that’s the goal. It’s baseball; it’s supposed to be fun for the fans. Whether you root, root, root for the home team, or the road team.