Thursday, May 25, 2006

Combined sucking of Nationals and Orioles threatens to engulf P.G., Montgomery and Howard counties in powerful vortex

So the first "Battle of the Beltway" has come and gone. The Nationals took a 2-1 series win in what truly was an epic battle of "who can suck less this weekend," and the biggest news to come from the whole thing is that I didn't post about it once.

Yeah, that's kind of self-important, but I figure my apathy is pretty representative of the apathy of the population as a whole. The area didn't exactly get worked into a frenzy over that weekend-long Quadruple-A baseball showcase at RFK. (They even held a minor league/major league day just to emphasize that what you were watching was not Major League level ball.)

Here's the problem: These teams aren't good. Maybe saying they "suck" is a little harsh, but... wait, no it's not.

Keven Millar said it well: "Nobody's interested in two teams that aren't winning ... Once you throw winning into the equation, it becomes a rivalry."

If the match-up came in April it could have been compelling. The Nats were coming off a .500 season and the O's were cautiously optimistic with several additions and the hope brought by pitching coach Leo Mazzone.

But no. Instead the rivalry came more than 40 games into the season. The O's had lost four of five and 15 of 23 going into the series and the Nats had dropped six of eight and had a sparkling 14-27 record on the year before the teams faced each other.

It's hard to stay passionate a month or two into a long season. It's actually taxing to be a fan of a bad team, because the schedule is such that you're constantly reminded that the team you love sucks. Even if you stop watching the games, the reminders are unavoidable. You turn on ESPN at any time, and "The Bottom Line" tells you that your team lost. You open the newspaper in the morning and the box score lets you know how bad your team is. You load up Firefox and your local headlines give you the miserable details.

SC at Camden Chat said it best:
"Baseball fandom is a love affair unlike any other sport. There are 162 games. No once a week, no 81 or 82, no chance to really catch your breath like you can with other sports. Even basketball and hockey have a bunch of days off. If you're a diehard fan of a bad baseball team, it is a constant bludgeoning for six months. The days your team isn't playing start to look like relief, and even then, if you're like me, you kinda wish you had a game to watch."
Deep, brother. Deep.

Plus, it's just not enticing when two cellar-dwellers duke it out, especially at a dump like RFK. Maybe a few more fans could have been baited to the park by the promise of some Boog's Barbecue, tasty Esskay Oriole franks, Uncle Teddy's cinnamon sugar pretzels and a beautiful evening at one of baseball's premier ballparks, but instead MLB decided they wanted the "rivalry" to kick off in a soccer stadium.

Getting the fans into the game was impossible -- the Orioles have spent the last eight years breeding apathy toward them and Washington fans are notorious for sitting on their hands -- but better scheduling could have at least gotten fans into the stadium.

The old and heinously overused addage is, "You can't polish a turd." But Major League Baseball has been doing just that for years. What's that? The Pirates have sucked for 20 years? Build 'em a shiny new ballpark! The Reds haven't been worth anything since Jose Rijo was on the team ... the first time around? NEW BALLPARK! The Phillies are the losingest franchise in any of the four major sports??? NEEWWWWW BALLLPAAAAAAAAAAARK!!!!!!

The Nats brass should know this all too well. Expos fans would still be dancing on the dugout with Youppi if the city of Montreal had agreed to put Le Stade Olympique out of its misery.

But starting the rivalry at Camden Yards would have just made too much sense. Sure, attendance has been low at both parks, but fans still love the atmosphere of Camden Yards and go when compelled. People actively avoid RFK.

And don't even get me started on the Nationals policy of charging "premium" prices for the games at RFK against the Orioles, Yankees and Cubs. (Cubs? Be serious.) Yeah, $5 to $10 more per ticket if you want to Metro to D.C. United's home field to watch a baseball game against a popular team. (How do they take the mound off the field for soccer games, anyway?) It's one of the more deplorable schemes I've seen from a pro sports franchise to squeeze every last dime out of its fan base, but why would I expect any less from a team collectively owned by the 29 other team owners.

Now we've got to wait until June 23 to renew the rivalry at the better ballpark up north, and by then both teams could be 20 games out of first! ("Could be..."? Ha! Ever the optimist, I guess...)

But Nats fans, consider this your open invitation to come on up anyway. I personally guarantee that the tickets will be the same price as every other game, and we certainly don't discriminate... just ask Red Sox and Yankees fans who make Oriole Park their home stadium 9 or 10 times a year.

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