Rooting interests collide when the Nationals and Orioles meet


(Ann Heisenfelt/AP)

The Washington Nationals and Baltimore Orioles begin their four-game, home-and-home series Monday at Nationals Park, and for the third consecutive year, both combatants in the Battle of the Beltways (are we still calling it that?) boast winning records and realistic playoff aspirations. As a fan of both teams, I could get used to this.

While I would prefer that the Nats and O’s played a pair of three-game series at different points in the season, as they did from 2006 to 2012, games between the team I grew up loving and the team I’ve since embraced are always my favorites every year. If only I could decide which team I would like to see win.

I’m planning to attend at least one game at Nationals Park and one game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards this week. As usual, I’ll wear a Nationals shirt and an Orioles hat or vice versa. As usual, I’ll get a few strange looks and an occasional comment to the effect of, “Hey, you can’t do that.”

When it comes to my baseball rooting interests, I’m conflicted, but I’m not confused. While growing up in Cheverly, I fell in love with the Orioles during the final years of Memorial Stadium. As an 8-year-old, I sat behind home plate with my grandparents and watched a rookie Mike Mussina. I marveled at Todd Frohwirth’s submarine delivery and Mickey Tettleton’s unique batting stance with my dad. I tracked Cal Ripken’s every move.

When Camden Yards opened in 1992, my dad bought a partial season ticket plan, which he kept for a few years after we moved to Arlington in 1997. During that time, my Orioles fandom was cemented by watching Mike Devereaux make leaping catches at baseball’s best park, Ripken’s pursuit of 2,131, two playoff appearances, Jeffrey Maier and Armando Benitez’s blown saves.

I was as excited as anyone when the Nationals arrived in 2005, but I never considered turning my back on the O’s. Now 31, I still regularly flip back and forth between MASN and MASN2 on most nights. I won’t soon forget staying up until 4 a.m. to watch the Orioles, in the heat of a pennant race, beat the Mariners in an 18-inning marathon in September 2012, nor staying up for the Nationals’ 14-inning win at Milwaukee last month.

There are many fans like me who still root for both teams, of course. For others, the split was easy – and, in some cases, preceded the Nationals’ arrival – because of the role Orioles owner Peter Angelos played in denying the District a team and, later, an equal share of broadcast revenue. (I won’t defend Angelos, but my rooting interests in multiple sports would probably be different if I picked or renounced teams based on the man at the top.)

It’s only July, but this season is shaping up to be a lot like 2012, which is good news for Nationals fans and Orioles fans alike. For fans of both teams, that means twice the excitement, twice the scoreboard-watching, and, potentially, twice the heartbreak, as was the case on October 12, 2012. Hours before the Nationals were Pete Kozma’d by the Cardinals in Game 5 of the NLDS, the Yankees’ C.C. Sabathia outdueled the Orioles’ Jason Hammel in Game 5 of the ALDS. It was the rare day I wished I’d settled on one team nine years ago.

Whether you love the Nats and loathe the O’s or root for both teams, the next four games should be fun. I don’t know which team I would cheer for in Game 7 of a Nationals-Orioles World Series, but this week I’ll be hoping for a split. In the spirit of the World Cup, a tie would be just fine.

Scott Allen writes about all things DC sports. Follow him on Twitter @ScottSAllen or e-mail him if you’ve got a tip to share.
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