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In Baltimore, Fans Have Mixed Feelings on O's, Nats

By Alan Goldenbach and Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, April 5, 2005; Page D08

BALTIMORE, April 4 -- If there were many Washington Nationals fans in the crowd at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on Monday, only a few showed it. John Daley did, and considered himself lucky.

The 49-year-old Fairfax resident came to the Baltimore Orioles' season opener wearing a red cap with a script 'W' and a throwback Washington Senators windbreaker.

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"No one has come up and punched me yet," joked Daley as he puffed on a cigar in the lower concourse. He came here with three longtime friends, a tradition they started in 1981. One of Daley's friends, Mike Wheelock, a 48-year-old from Oakton, said he had purchased four season tickets to the Nationals. Three of the four plan to attend the Nationals' home opener against Arizona at RFK Stadium on April 14.

With the Nationals playing their first game in Philadelphia, some Washington area fans struggled to reconcile the new challenge for their loyalties. Some tried to justify supporting both the Orioles and the Nationals, saying it gives them an opportunity to see teams in both leagues.

"They're not mutually exclusive," said Bob Schoenborn, 60, of Chantilly. Washington "gives baseball fans a chance to see the National League."

Some, however, couldn't understand that. They pointed to New York, a city whose fans rarely cross over from the Yankees to the Mets.

"I feel like New Yorkers do," said Ed McDonald, 50, a Baltimore native, who lives and works on Capitol Hill and maintains his devotion to the Orioles. "Pick a team and stick with it. You've been an Orioles fan for 30 years, why are you going to stop all of a sudden?"

For fans from the District and Northern Virginia, satisfying a baseball fix will be much easier this season with Nationals games at RFK Stadium.

"RFK is a lot more convenient for people for people from Virginia," said Chad Siddons, 33, of Fairfax. "I think in the end, I'm going to go to more Nationals games. But probably not this year, because they are so new. I'm going to wait until they get some atmosphere, when they've got the new stadium, and some bars and restaurants."

Schoenborn isn't waiting. Over the past three years, traffic during the hour-plus trek from his Chantilly home to Baltimore led him to cut back on the number of Orioles games he attended from 40 to 20 to 10 last year.

"I'll go to half as many games as I normally do . . . because of the traffic," said Schoenborn, 60, who bought Nationals season tickets and was at Sunday's exhibition game against the Mets.

McDonald said a lifetime of Orioles ties will not be broken by a team playing a stone's throw from his home, but he is worried about other District fans deserting the Orioles.

"As a Baltimore native and a D.C. resident, I'm very concerned about the impact of the Nationals on my hometown team," he said. "As a Capitol Hill staffer, if you want to take a lobbyist out to a game, go on over to RFK, catch a game and be in bed by 10 o'clock. If you bring them up to Baltimore, it's an all-day ordeal."

Of the dozen or so vendors selling T-shirts and hats along West Camden Street, only one such cart carried Nationals merchandise. As of 1 p.m., the owner said she had sold only one Nationals T-shirt.

Chuck Cohen is just the type of person Orioles owner Peter Angelos doesn't think exists. Cohen, an attorney who practices in Washington and lives in Chevy Chase, bought season tickets to both the Orioles and Nationals.

"I'm living proof that the cities can support both teams," said Cohen, who sat in section 40 wearing a blue Nationals cap. "The ushers teased me a little, but that's about it."

While he said he is an unabashed baseball fan, Cohen, an Orioles season ticket holder for 15 years, said his purchase of Nationals tickets also was a message to Angelos.

"I love the Orioles," Cohen said, "but I hate what has been done to the Orioles."

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